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"Son, there's something you should know"
See, for kids today, getting online is like turning a tap on was for us when we were young. It's a utility, an expectant part of life that wherever you go, as long as you've got some kind of portable device with a screen, you can get online.
I'd always imagined the conversation I'd have with my eldest, who's seven, would start with "son, in the beginning, we used to have to plug our computer into the wall before we could access the internet". I can see him staring back at me with a rabbit-in-the-headlights gape of confusion. Wires? Waiting to get online? No instant access to YouTube? Followed by a "how did you survive?" type of response.
He has access to five different devices in our living room which will take him directly to YouTube, or anywhere else on the internet – internet TV, games console, tablet, smartphone and laptop – six if you count each of our two laptops individually. And he's quite able to use all of them, instinctively and with increasing regularity.
Which is one reason why Safer Internet Day is becoming more and more important. As our children's ability to access the internet as a utility has increased, so has the risk of exposure to the less pleasant parts of it. There is a world of brilliant stuff online, but much like the real world, there are some bits I'd rather my kids didn't see.
Read about CES 2011 – the internet everywhere
O2 is a big supporter of Safer Internet Day, which itself exists to advise schools on educating parents and children on surfing the web safely. Today is the eight annual Safer Internet Day so an appropriate time to stop and think about what we could do to make the internet a better place for kids to hang out.
Right now my wife and I restrict our kids' use of the internet. More so than we do their use of the TV. But I'm not so happy about it. Restricting TV, sure (as good as Kick Buttowski is, an' all) but restricting online access – really? There's so much out there.
I spend my working life online, and a reasonable chunk of my non-working life too. The internet is our industrial revolution. It's the democratization of information. It's useful. It's fun.
The web connects a fortune of information which we can access and utilise in seconds. Little treats waiting to be uncovered. Heck, even culture is getting in on the game with a raft of splendid art galleries opening their collections up to Google's Street view, making priceless art accessible not to millions, but to billions of people around the globe.
And I'm stopping my kids from spending time on this why exactly?
Fear, mostly, but also lack of understanding. I don't know how to stop them from seeing stuff they shouldn't see. Though I know I should do more. I should talk to them about it, what's safe to look at, what's not safe to look at. Educate them, somehow.
The key, it seems, is to understand how better to protect our kids online rather than to restrict their access to it. O2 offers a raft of information and advice on the subject, both on the web and through its call centres. Just call up and you can speak to someone who'll offer advice on what to do. O2 was one of the first networks to ship all new mobile broadband dongles with a content restrictor (which can be lifted for over 18s) so kids won't be accidentally exposed to the less pleasant parts of the web.
Find out more about O2 Protect our children
Kids can learn about this stuff at school, too. 89 Children's Champions drive an initiative at O2 which sees the team venture out into schools to help children learn how to protect themselves from risks online. Those same champions also work in conjunction with a range of UK child safety organisations.
Teachers can also pick up tips from the collaborative project, Tech Today, which O2 also contributes to. The site contains a raft of teaching resources around the subject of safer surfing which teachers can download and use to plan lessons around the topic.
Kids need to spend time outside, for sure. They need exercise, they need to socialise, they need a mixture of activity. That's what we try and give our own kids. But they also deserve to have safe access to the world's information. But we can't completely shield our kids in the real world and neither can we do it online. We can though teach them how to play safe, how to be responsible and what to do if they run into trouble. Then, we can stop looking over their shoulder whenever they dive into another website.
Now, if you don't mind, there's a conversation I need to have.
Photo by crazytales562