At a time when many Australian households have more computers, smartphones and tablets than they do people, it seems inevitable that children will be introduced to the online world from a tender age – even before they learn to speak.
No longer content with toy phones and laptops, children see their parents using the real thing and they want to get involved. So as parents introduce their little ones to an increasing number of kids’ games and apps, the debate over exactly how much they should limit and monitor their child’s internet use has increased significantly in recent years.
When should children use the internet unsupervised?
At a very young age, most children would struggle to operate a smartphone or tablet without constant help from their parents, who will naturally supervise their use of the internet. But what about when children become older, more independent, and capable of exploring the world wide web on their own?
With more and more children using laptops or tablets to do their school homework, is it even feasible to consistently watch over them as they grow up? At what age should parents feel confident enough to let their child use the internet completely unsupervised?
Canstar Blue asked almost 600 parents with children under the age of 16 whether or not they monitored their use of the internet. They told us:
- Yes, I have a security package (e.g. Net Nanny) 11%
- Yes, I sit with my children while they are on the internet 31%
- No, because I trust my child not to access inappropriate sites 40%
- No, because I don’t think it’s necessary to restrict my child’s online access 18%
All parents are different and entitled to restrict or monitor their child’s internet use as they see fit. There is no right or wrong answer – but the subject does divide opinion.
Child relationships and internet safety expert, Deanne Carson, says parents should be open and honest with children, and encourage conversations on internet use and content.
“Like road safety and water safety, teaching children how to use the internet is a progression that starts in early childhood and ends sometime in the teen years,” she said. “Monitoring a child’s internet use is one of several things parents can do to help their child navigate the web appropriately.
“In the early years, parents can make use of apps and programs that restrict content accessibility, monitor how and when children use the internet and put adult devices in a ‘safe mode’ that ensures children don’t accidently stumble across inappropriate content.
“During the primary school years, tools like these are great for starting conversations. Parents should talk about what concerns them and what the child can do if something makes them feel uncomfortable.
“Having open communication with your child encourages them to come to you for support if they ever feel unsafe online. Young people have said that they are less likely to tell their parents about internet bullying or contact by strangers if they feel it will lead to greater restrictions being placed on their internet use.”
How to react to your child’s internet use
Mrs Carson added that, by the age of 16, parents should feel confident that their child is using the internet responsibly. Here are some tips on how to monitor internet use before they reach that age.
Age 0 – 6
- Use security packages like Net Nanny and sandbox apps like Kids Place.
- Restrict how much time your child spends online.
- Sit with them while they are playing games and talk about what they are doing and seeing.
Age 6 – 9
- Continue to use security packages and monitor their time spent online.
- Talk to your child about what they can do if they see anything that makes them feel confused or uncomfortable.
- Use monitoring tools like My Mobile Watchdog. Sit with your child and explain their internet use to them. The goal is not to catch them out doing the wrong thing, but to have them move towards self-monitoring.
Age 9 – 13
- Children at this age are more social online than previously, so look for apps or games that allow interaction with others. Are they playing with friends or strangers?
- Talk to them about online bullying and how to interact respectfully with others.
- Most social media platforms require users to be 13 before they have an account. If your child is using social media, talk to them about how they can protect their privacy online.
Age 13 – 18
- Young people value their privacy more at this age. They may be able to get around online security and will only resent what they see as ‘snooping’. Instead, ask your child to show you what they are doing online. Make them feel their privacy is respected.
- Ask them questions about the apps and programs they use. What don’t they like? Talk directly about delicate issues like pornography, pictures and ‘sexting’.
- Discuss their online digital footprint. Look at it like a digital portfolio for the future, what are they presenting to future employers, friends or partners? Having a digital footprint does not need to be negative if young people carefully curate what they present to the world.