If you have a child aged 3-6, you’ve probably noticed that they love using the internet to look at videos and pictures, listen to music or play games. While preschoolers generally aren’t exposed to as many risks online as older children, it’s still worth being aware of some of the issues that can arise and having some good safety practices in place to ensure your preschooler stays safe online.
What are the risks?
While there are a number of risks to children online, preschoolers are usually too young to be exposed to some of the most worrisome issues, such as being contacted by strangers online or getting involved in internet bullying or other harmful online behaviours. The biggest issue for preschoolers using the internet is the risk of them accessing inappropriate content that may be upsetting or alarming for young children, such as depictions of violence, animal cruelty or sexual content. Another issue to consider is the risk of your child accidentally agreeing to contracts online – for example purchasing an app, signing up for paid services or agreeing to terms and conditions that allow a business to send marketing emails or collect personal data.
Seven tips for ensuring your preschooler is safe on the internet
While there are always risks to accessing the internet, that’s no reason to keep your preschooler offline completely. Some simple safety precautions can ensure your child has a positive experience online.
- Supervise – While there’s no need to stand over your child’s shoulder the whole time they’re online, it’s a good idea to stay close by and keep an eye on what they’re doing. Check-in periodically and ask questions about the game they’re playing or the show they’re watching. This is a great way to engage with your child as well as ensure that the content they’re accessing is appropriate. You can even sit with them and watch or play for a few minutes to establish an open dialogue around the content they’re accessing.
- Use kid-friendly services – Download kid-safe browsers like Kiddle or Kidtopia and video services like ABC Kids, CBeebies or YouTube Kids. Try to avoid the standard YouTube app because even if you choose appropriate content for your child to watch initially, the design of the app makes it easy for them to be accidentally exposed to inappropriate videos.
- Set up a folder on your device for your child – Keep all your child-friendly apps in one folder so your child knows where to go. You can also set up easy-to-access bookmarks on their web browsers so they can easily navigate to their favourite, child-friendly websites.
- Double-check apps before installing – If your child is requesting to use a certain app, check reviews and read the app description in detail to ensure it is appropriate before downloading. Common sense media is a great free service for determining whether or not content is appropriate for your child’s age group.
- Change the settings – Whether your child has their own device, or they share yours, it’s a good idea to turn on any safety features that are available to prevent accidental purchases or unauthorised activity. For example, you could disable in-app purchases, one-click payments and location services and implement passcodes to prevent your child from downloading apps themselves.
- Educate – Your preschooler is already establishing a life-long relationship with the internet, and there’s plenty they will need to know both now and in the future. For example, you might want to teach them that the internet has all kinds of content, both good and bad and not all of it is true. Explain to them that they can come to you to talk if they see something that upsets them or something they are worried about. It could also be worth explaining that some things on the internet cost money and we have to be careful we aren’t accidentally being charged money on the internet.
- Be a good role model – As with everything in life, our preschoolers learn more from what we do than what we say, and role modelling healthy internet usage is important for establishing your child’s long-term online behaviour. Take the time to consider what your values around internet usage are, and try to model these for your child. For example, you may choose to have no devices in the bedrooms.
If you are not sure about what steps to take to ensure your preschoolers’ safety online, talk to the educators at the local preschool they attend. If they are currently going to a childcare centre, the teachers will be able to provide some guidance on the best practices since they have long years of experience.