The iPad, tablet or smartphone for that matter are all truly wonderful things.  For a busy parent at home, travelling or just in need of a moment’s peace, even the teeniest of children can be amused by a game, an app, or their favourite characters on YouTube!  Whilst we’re all aware that little hands could damage this expensive equipment, what about the damage that the equipment could be doing to our little people?

Starting safe internet habits from day one may seem a little over cautious, but in reality your child will learn how to manoeuvre their way around an iPad way faster than you or I ever did and just as those first tentative steps quickly developed into running, jumping and dancing, those first few swipes will become surfing, messaging and sharing before you know it!

So what are the good habits to get into, and what should you be doing to safeguard your toddler from the evils of the internet?

Remember their age!

It might seem obvious, but at such a young age, images, adverts and videos that we may shrug off or not even notice, will be taken at face value by your toddler.  They don’t yet have the reasoning skills or life experience to understand everything that they are seeing.  Real and fictional media images may be frightening, and as we all know the jump from one website to another (don’t click just yet!), can happen all too easily – annoying for us as adults, but potentially harmful for a young child.

Be present

Whilst it’s tempting to switch on the iPad while you get dinner prepared, or pop upstairs to grab a load of washing, it’s really important that you’re around at all times to monitor what your little one is engaging with.  This will become more and more important as they get older and more vulnerable to outside influences.  If they’re used to using the internet with you, with your guidance and as a social activity, they will find it less difficult to adjust as they get older to the recommendation that internet activity is limited to a safe room where other family members are present.

Keep them anonymous

Many games, apps and sites ask you to sign in and some may request your child’s name – if that’s the case, make up a username by all means, but don’t provide their real name.  As the games progress and your child becomes more independent, they will learn the importance of not giving out personal information, so this is a good start.

How much is too much?

There’s no escaping that the internet is part of daily life and it follows that our children, learning from us will want to use it too!  As part of a well rounded development, playing internet games, watching movies and messing around with apps have their place, but nestled in amongst outdoor activity, drawing, painting, playing and exploring the REAL world!  So how much should a child of 2,3 or 4 be engaging with the virtual world?  Whilst there are no hard and fast guidelines in the UK, in 2013 the US Department of Health recommended that children under two years of age should not be in front of a screen at all, and over that age the maximum leisure screen time should be no more than two hours a day.

If you’re having to ask yourself if your child is using devices too much, the answer is probably, yes!

Set a good example

We are role models for our children.  They learn their manners from us, their day to day behaviour and they mimic us in the way we interact with others.  If you find yourself checking emails, texting or checking Facebook while your little one is trying to communicate with you, STOP!   Set a great example, and show them that human interaction is far more important than screen time.

Set family rules and stick to them

This is a great time to put basics into practice and to start safe internet habits that will become engrained in their use of devices as they become older and more vulnerable.  No phones or devices at the table (that means you too!) and definitely no screens before bedtime – the light from the screens can inhibit sleep and disrupt body clocks.

What steps can you take to ensure safety for your child online

There are number of things that you can do right now to make the internet a safer place as your child grows:

  • Set parental controls on your home broadband to prevent your children seeing things they shouldn’t
  • Check the parental controls that are available on your smart phone or mobile phone network and make sure that they are active
  • Disable location services so that your child doesn’t unintentionally share their location with others
  • Download age appropriate apps that you are happy for your child to use
  • Use the device setting so that you can only download age appropriate material
  • Make sure all devices have a password, so that your child can only access the device with your permission and when you are present.

You can find more guidance, safety tools and advice for families from the Google Safety Centre