Keeping primary school-age children safe online
Check your computer's internet history regularly to see which sites your child has been visiting and if they're instant messaging.
Let them know you're monitoring their email and messaging accounts to see who they're talking to.
After initial arguments, it should help to prevent accusations of snooping later on.
Patrolling internet access for primary school children is tricky, because they're a lot more internet savvy. They'll be using a lot more sites, too.
Rather than a whitelist, you may want to think about a blacklist – this blocks the websites you don't want your kids to be on.
You should also use a filter to stop your child from viewing most sexually explicit material on the web (although be aware that no filter is 100% safe).
Another option to think about is a children's browser, which serves as a gateway between your computer and the internet. Browsers for kids generally filter sexual or otherwise inappropriate words or images and they are often designed to be easier for children to use.
How to install Google SafeSearch
SafeSearch screens sites that contain sexually explicit content and removes them from your search results. It's important to realise that no filter is 100% foolproof, but SafeSearch helps you avoid content you would rather your children did not stumble across.
To modify your computer's SafeSearch settings, click on search settings under the settings link at the top right of the Google home page.
How to activate SafeSearch lock
There are a number of social networking sites aimed at younger children, such as Webkinz and Club Penguin. These offer the ability to chat and play online games with other children. Others, such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, are aimed at children aged 13 and above, but the reality is that lots of younger children are already using these sites (with or without their parents' knowledge).
It's worth asking your children to tell you before they talk to anyone online - and then letting them talk to friends and family online so they feel as if they have some freedom.
Impress on your children that they need to think about who they're talking to and the information they reveal about themselves online.
Many children of this age want to set up their own email account, usually to correspond with school friends or family. If you have parental controls on your computer, now's the time to look at what protection they can offer for email accounts, either by limiting who your child can contact or who can contact them.
If you don't have parental controls, you might want to think about adding their email as an alias to your own account, so that you can see what's coming in and going out.
Either way, encourage your child to choose an email address that can't be linked to their real name/identity and is unlikely to be targeted by spammers or other predators eg gigbo23@googlemail, rather than johnsmith23@googlemail.
How to set up spam filters
Now is also the time to explore how your computer's spam filter works and set it to filter out as much as possible. Some spam filters also allow you to filter images to make it less likely that pornogaphic images will get through.
No filter is ever 100% foolproof, so make sure your child know never to respond to an email that gets through from someone they don't know, or to click on links in emails/open attachments unless they are from a trusted source.
Internet 'house rules'
Agree a set of 'internet house rules' and tack them near the computer. These might include:
- How many minutes/hours each person can be online
- Which, if any, sites your children are allowed to access without permission
- A promise to tell you if they come across material they find upsetting/disturbing or that they don't understand
- A commitment not to give out any personal or family details, and not to post photos online without permission
Most crucially though, position your child's or family computer in a public area, rather than their bedroom or another room where they're alone.
What about their friends' computers?
Your child will probably spend time on computers at friends' houses, and they might not have parental controls in place or any restrictions on their child's computer usage.
Talk to your child about this before they go and see friends and, if you are particularly worried, talk to the parent or carer at the house they are visiting. Explain that your child has house rules for computer use and ask if they can keep an eye on your child to make sure they stick to them (then the implication is that they're helping you rather than you casting aspersions on their parenting/nannying skills).