What is inappropriate content?
The internet offers young people amazing opportunities to connect and learn, but it can also expose them to content that is both age and developmentally unsuitable.
Content on the internet is not sorted into age or appropriate areas and without supervision and guidance, a child can either unintentionally or purposely find content that is sexually explicit, extremely violent or inappropriate. We know that exposure to this type of content can also be psychologically damaging.
Just as you would ensure that the books you read to your child are age appropriate and the TV shows they watch are suitably rated, you should monitor what your child is doing, and where they are going in the digital space.
Most internet users will at some stage come across confronting content online and in the majority of cases this will not cause long-term harm. Problems can arise when this exposure is constant and is not discussed with a parent who can provide a balanced view.
Some specific examples of potentially damaging content for children and teenagers include sites which encourage eating disorders or self-harm. For young people with mental health issues such as depression or an eating disorder, these sites can be damaging as they create an environment where users may normalise behaviour which is harmful (for example encouraging self-harm, or extreme calorie restrictions). Be aware that young people can find these sites easily.
Most of these disturbing websites are not 'illegal' which means that they will remain online and it is up to a parent to monitor and manage. You would not feel safe allowing your child to wander aimlessly through a large city, alone and in the middle of the night so remember that the internet is like a large city, full of good and bad and a place that a child needs to be supervised.
The issues of curiosity and exploration are the same for every generation, but the internet means there is far more information which is far more easily accessible. Parents may once have looked up a 'rude' word in a dictionary—children today will Google the word instead. Rather than looking up pictures of nude bodies in a biology textbook, kids can now access pornographic content very quickly online.
What can I do to protect my child online?
The most important thing you can do is engage in open and honest communication. Use the internet together and make it part of your family's activities. The more you explore together, the more you will learn about their online behaviours and interests.
More options include:
Have a home-based ‘Acceptable Use Agreement’
You have rules in the real world about what your expectations are, you can have similar rules and consequences for the internet.
Use an internet filter
These can be downloaded for free or purchased from a retailer. Remember that sometimes filters fail, and they can be bypassed by a tech savvy child. Make sure your filter is working.
Use parental controls
You may not be aware that computers, tablets, smartphones and gaming consoles have some level of parental control—for example, the ability to block access to certain categories of websites. These are not the default settings, so you must activate them yourself. Some search engines allow parents to restrict content and some modern modems have parental controls.
Talk with your child
Talk early and talk often! Ensure that you regularly talk with your children about their online experiences. Check with them about any inappropriate or scary content they may have come across and reinforce that there is nothing so bad that they cannot tell you about it. If you hear about a site which concerns you, have a look for yourself.
Let them know that they should come and tell you when they have any problems online, see something that they know is wrong, or anything that upsets them and most importantly they will not get in trouble.
Children often fear telling a parent about an online issue as they think this will result in blocking their access to the computer and internet. Don't threaten to disconnect your child—this will only cause them to keep online problems hidden from you.
Printable advice sheet
To download a copy of this advice sheet, see: