The Internet offers families an amazing cornucopia of knowledge and entertainment from anywhere in the world, but just like any public place in the real world, parents should give some consideration to where and when to allow their kids to play, and whether or not they should be chaperoned.
The World Wide Web was not designed with built in content filters or age identity systems so it’s up to you to find and use technology that achieves the goals you set. Hopefully this post will help you determine the best approach for your family.
There are a variety of strategies that are being offered to help parents manage their children’s Internet use.
Some create curated “walled gardens” that children can enjoy and explore without the risk of objectionable content or privacy issues.
Others approach the problem from the browser side by providing a kid-friendly browser with a “white list” of web sites that are deemed safe, and allowing you to add new sites that you or your child want to access.
Both strategies have their strengths and weaknesses. For younger children, curated systems can be very effective because you already know everything within the system is child-friendly. But as your children broaden their horizons and begin to get interested in topics that go beyond the content in the curated system, you will eventually need to venture into the great “unwashed” Internet.
As children get older and begin to realize there are things they aren’t allowed to see or do on the Internet, human nature drives them to seek those things out. This is the main fail point for access-based child safety systems. At a certain point, the child will figure out that if they use your browser instead of theirs, they can join sites or play games that were unavailable inside their protective cocoon.
Ultimately, the best way to protect your children online is by educating them about the benefits and risks of online activity. Just like you train them on how to safely cross a street, to check in with you when they go places, and not to go places with strangers, modern parents need to educate their children about online safety and etiquette.
Knowledge is the best defense against online privacy and bullying threats. Isolating children from the open Internet just increases the likelihood that they will find a way to explore it, and you won’t be around to curate it.
The National Cyber Security Alliance offers a great resource to help you give your child the knowledge to be able to safely benefit from the Internet at StaySafeOnline. Kids Online Privacy Camp also provides educational content and mobile apps that will help you educate your children.