For years I have been recommending that parents put some type of internet filtering software on their computers and devices to protect their children from nasty stuff on the internet. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If they cannot view the rotten stuff, it cannot do them any harm. It makes perfect sense – but software isn’t always airtight and we can’t expect filters to parent for us.
Some research done by Oxford University was recently published in The Journal of Paediatrics (1), based on over a thousand interviews with 12 to 15-year-olds. In the preceding year, one in six said they had experienced something really frightening online (2) – something scary, sexual or threatening, or someone they didn’t know trying to contact them. Even with filters in place, many kids still came across scary and upsetting content.
What can we take from this? I still think filtering is a very good idea, but the real thing to take away is – do not rely solely on software and gadgets to do your job for you. I think the big thing that keeps kids from being negatively impacted online is a close relationship with their parents, for three reasons. First up, in a good close relationship you can monitor what they are doing and negotiate good rules. Secondly, if they do get a fright, you can give the support and debriefing that will help them be resilient and get over it, and thirdly, out of a close relationship comes the learning of values and standards, giving kids internal filters and firewalls that will be better than any filter package you can buy.
(1) Andrew K. Przybylski, Victoria Nash. Internet Filtering Technology and Aversive Online Experiences in Adolescents. The Journal of Pediatrics, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.01.063
(2) “Nearly one in six (or 14%) of the teenagers interviewed reported they had had at least one negative experience online in the past year that they would class as significant; 8% said they had been contacted by someone online who they did not know and wanted to be their friend. Around 4% said they had encountered another person pretending to be them online; 2% saw something of a sexual nature that made them uncomfortable; 3% reported seeing or receiving a scary video or comment that made them feel scared.”