14/08/2014 12:57 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

Keeping My Child Safe Online

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Before Christmas I asked my son to write a wish list of Christmas presents for Santa. Without hesitation, he snatched a pen and paper and wrote 'an iPod' in big letters. Beneath it, he wrote 'and a music player', which I thought was over-egging the pudding a bit.

We've always resisted buying him an iPod, purely because we know that he would be superglued to the thing and we'd rarely hear from him. But, one by one, his friends and cousins got similar gadgets and in the end it turned out to be a case of pester power winning the day.

You should have seen his face when he unwrapped it. We'd bought a second-hand iPod, but he didn't care. In fact, when we were explaining the rules under which he could use it, it was pretty clear that not a single word was sinking in.

And there definitely were rules.


Giving a child a gadget which can connect to the Internet is a two-edged sword: on one hand, it opens up a world of information, fun, and - apparently - games in which you make a cartoon cat burp as loudly as you can. On the other hand, it exposes my innocent child to a world of danger and risk.


The first rule, of course, was that he could only download games which were pre-approved by us, were free, and which didn't have any kind of in-game purchasing. The last thing we want is to be on the Daily Mail looking all forlorn under the headline 'Child racks up £1,000 bill in just ONE DAY using free app'.

Fortunately, he only cares about games at the moment; because the other risk, of course, is that he wanders into some kind of communication app or social networking website, which would leave him vulnerable to all manner of evil people.

Should we tell him about the people who are lurking out there on the World Wide Web? It's something we've tossed around in our minds, and we've come to the decision that we'll distill it down so as to prevent scaring him: and so he's not allowed to talk to anyone online, even if he thinks it's someone he knows. When he's older, maybe we'll explain more about why.

How do you police what your child is doing when he's playing on his smartphone, or his iPod, or tablet? Firstly, Isaac is only allowed to use his iPod when we are with him, so we know what he's doing at any one time. The amount of time he spends on his iPod is limited as well, to prevent him from becoming too dependent upon it for fun, and morbidly obese from sitting around all day prodding at a screen.

You can also set favourites and bookmarks in all Internet browsers, and these can be useful tools for making sure that your child is only surfing online on websites which you trust. It's a minefield, though, but one which - in this day and age - is a necessary one.

Despite how much I find myself grumbling that I never had these kinds of rules when I was a child, we are producing a generation which is growing up in a technological age. And so, despite reluctance, it's time for parents to stop living in the past, and adapt to the future.

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