How We Launched Our Six-Year-Old's Online Presence

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This morning P woke me by snuggling into my bed and asking how babies are made. "I don't understand how the father helps," he said. "Does he just sit there and watch?"

I thought it wouldn't be too out of character if I chose this moment to bury myself under my pillow, but as usual that solution was short-lived and soon I was wiping the bleary gunk from my eyes and trying to answer his question as per my usual protocol -- be calm, be scientific, use Google.

About five seconds after I typed the word "vagina" into an image search it occurred to me that this wasn't the ideal situation for my usual protocol. Pretty lucky, then, that just last Friday I decided P had reached that stage of digital independence where I really needed to put a few checks in place to protect him even if I wasn't hanging directly over his shoulder. Or, as it turns out, if he's actually hanging directly over mine but I'm not yet awake enough to Google responsibly.

kids and computer

Image: Lucelia Ribeiro via Flickr

This could happen to you

No, actually, it might just be me. But in any case, I'm going to pass on our current techniques for maintaining internet safety as our children reach the next stage of digital awareness, covering general device settings, our arrangements for gmail, Skype, twitter and wordpress, and resources for teaching about online safety and etiquette.

And I'd be keen to hear if you think there's something we've missed, or that you do differently, because clearly I need to do that tomorrow, before the followup round of questions begins.

Here's our general checklist for what we do and don't want our six-year-old to be doing online:

  • We don't want him using the device to reveal his location. Location services are off.
  • We don't want him purchasing apps or making in-app purchases.
  • We don't want him posting content on the internet or using email or skyping people without our knowledge or consent.
  • We do want him to access useful, G-rated content via a web browser, with some (nearby) supervision.
  • We do want him to post content, email and skype with our consent and supervision.

How we set up our devices now our eldest can read and type

Before P learnt how to read, type and ask detailed questions about how babies are made, life was very simple. We put a password lock on our devices and nobody could even start to use any of them without direct supervision; also, most of the questions were about fish or volcanoes.

Now P's grown out of that, we've transferred all his activities (except CIV IV) onto the iPad Mini he won in an art competition (I know -- I was thinking a set of paintbrushes or something) and set the ratings to G. It's not 100% reliable, but I can tell you the first page of image search results for "vagina" is safer than it otherwise would be*.

How we configured the iPad Mini for our children's use:

Because this device is just for the kids which would never have happened in the real world where we have to buy and therefore share things, I didn't switch off the ability to delete apps (let 'em learn the hard way). On my phone delete apps is most certainly switched off, so I always know my apps are there somewhere even if a few have gone missing in some weird places never to be seen again.

How we set up P's gmail account

The kids have gmail accounts, to which we hold the password. We had to lie to Google about their ages, but we are ok with that, under the circumstances. P has only just started using his and in fact seems to like the idea of it more than the actual use of it. He can't log in without direct supervision and his address book consists entirely of members of his extended family. If anyone changes the password, google will notify us by SMS.

How to set up gmail so you'll be notified if anyone changes the password:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Go to Accounts and Import
  3. Go to Security
  4. Go to Recovery And Alerts and enter your mobile number to get SMS alerts
  5. Go to Account History. We have enabled search history, for what that's worth.
  6. Bonus action: scroll down to Related Settings and click on Search Settings.
  7. Tick Filter Explicit Results and click Save.

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