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The Human Virus

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Simple ways to protect kids from internet danger – By Dean Stewart


The internet has become a big part of our lives for most of us. Whether for personal or business use, or both, we seldom escape the online world.

We keep in touch, connect, reconnect, buy, sell, find, research and relax online. As technology evolves, we see it integrating at every point of our lives. No wonder it is life for our kids of today.

In June 2011, the United Nations declared that internet access is a human right, and that disconnecting people from the internet is a human rights violation against international law.

Nowadays, connecting to the internet is wireless and mobile. New products on the market such as tablet computers have made keeping connected while on the go easy. It is increasingly becoming free too.

Many cities in Europe provide free wireless connections throughout their centres. Here in New Zealand public libraries, cafes, airports and McDonalds restaurants generally provide free wireless internet connection.

Schools throughout New Zealand are currently trialling and testing various methods of technology integration into the classroom environment. Some are taking what may be perceived as a radical approach, whereby the teacher answers questions from students as well as from a ‘live’ Twitter feed, which may be projected onto a large screen at the same time.

Others are struggling to manage issues such as ‘cyberbullying’ and ‘sexting.’ Safety on the internet is always a concern and top priority. It often seems like we are merely sticking a band aid onto something broken, or placing the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. After all, so many adults find it difficult to get their heads around technology, let alone keep up with it! The internet is the most public place you will ever be, while feeling the most private. For children, the most private place for them is where they feel most comfortable, in the home.

Schools have their own filtering systems and either subscribe to one of the national providers, or install their own in house software. However, once a child leaves the schoolyard, they can be left vulnerable. That’s why we have come up with several simple ways to protect kids from internet danger.

  1. Draw up a written contract with your children around internet usage, time spent surfing and where they use the internet. Include rules about placing portable devices in a bowl on the table before bedtime. Remember, all portable devices connect to the internet and can send text. Search the internet for ‘parent internet agreement’ for several examples.
  2. Teach children ‘net etiquette’. Play nicely on the internet and no bullying. Remember, these are real people they are speaking to.
  3. Guide young children new to the internet to positive sites that will teach them internet safety in a safe and fun way while keeping them busy at the same time. NZ sites such as, and are closely monitored, safe and educate in a fun way.
  4. Manually set ‘safe search’ in search engines. This will restrict objectionable material from showing up in search results. Remember, female names, pets and cartoon characters entered in a search engine will often return objectionable material in the search results.
  5. Install free software like Site Advisor. Once installed, it will flag sites in search results that may be harmful to your computer to visit.
  6. Install filtering / monitoring software. You will be able to choose the categories a website may fall into you wish to block, so young ones don’t accidentally stumble on them, and monitor internet activity to ensure what you teach your children is being put into practice. There are some great free products like K9 and inexpensive paid products that offer more features.
  7. Use monitoring software that will show who your children are speaking to in messenger programs. A cursory glance is all it takes, and any names not familiar can be questioned.
  8. Ensure your kids understand how the ‘other’ person feels when being bullied and know the consequences. At the same time, teach them to speak to mum, dad or a trusting adult about anything they see, hear or read that makes them feel uncomfortable online.
  9. Teach children about privacy and the importance of not making phone numbers, home address or school name public on any internet site, including the reasons why.
  10. Ensure children understand that they are not to meet anyone face to face that they have not met before, unless a trusting adult goes with them.
  11. Explain to young male teens that pornography is addictive and not how it is in the real world. Teach them that addiction can ruin relationships and change their values in society, potentially causing them to struggle building relationships in future.
  12. Empower your children online. Get them to show you where they like to go on the internet. Sit with them and ask them to show you how privacy settings work on social networking sites. That way you can see how much they secure theirs, while they feel great teaching you what they know.

Dean Stewart owns and runs WebSafety NZ, a business that protects parents and children from internet danger. They present internet safety to parents and students through schools, and install filtering software on home computers.
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