The Internet is Like a Puddle – How to watch out for the Internet Monster

  • Thursday, August 24, 2017
  • Shona Innes Psychology

 We live in an era of fast information and sadly, with that speed and efficiency comes more ways that information can be altered of changed. Internet advertising, pop ups and sidebar activities, fake news – there is plenty that we need to watch for in this space. With more and more information coming to children via the internet, including homework that requires researching topics online, how can we help kids detect what might be genuine information and facts from advertisers, opinion pieces and “fake” news?
Purchase Books in the Big Hug Series I.T. savvy adults can of course install and use up to date security software, but I also think it’s a great idea to skill kids up with a radar so that they can detect what might be dodgy online. It can all get a bit muddy in the internet puddle. How can we help kids to avoid the murky bits?       

For preschoolers and early school years

Young children are not really reading news but their screen time can still be interrupted by various dodgy online interference's. Games and the videos they watch often come with much activity in the sidebars that can entice young minds and are just a click away.

With little ones, I find it useful to “externalise” these online issues. To “externalise means that we make the problem the problem and not have children internalise or blame themselves or others for online issues that are sometimes beyond their control. I like to externalise dodgy internet scams or intrusions as “the tricky internet monster”.

The tricky internet monster is really tricky and very naughty. The monster lives online so you don’t have to worry about him when you are going about your day to day stuff, but you do need to keep an eye out for the monster when you are on an internet device. Every now and then the internet monster might pop up so you need to keep an eye out for it. The monster can tell you fibs, it can show you stuff that is upsetting, can make you want to buy things and it can damage your (or Mum’s or Dad’s) device.

There are three ways that kids can catch an internet monster:

  1. Watch out for pop-ups – They can tell an adult straight away if something pops up on the screen when they weren’t expecting it.
  2. Stay away from the sides – Almost like swimming between the flags at the beach, the stuff on the outside edges of the screen can take you to places you don’t want to be. Especially watch for out for “free” or “flashing things” – the monster loves to use free and flashy stuff to get you into trouble.
  3. Listen to your feelings – if the things that you are seeing are giving you feelings that are really big, then it’s worth showing a grown up and asking someone else about it

When young children notice something that could be the work of the internet monster, we need to be very attentive when they show us.

For older children

I love the idea of sitting down with older children and dissecting a piece of “fake news” or a dodgy internet post together. When you are examining something together, you can encourage them to Look, Ask and Think.

  • Look – does it look dodgy – How is the font and the layout? Does it look professional? Has the photo or image been messed with? You can even do an image search (click and drag it to your search engine box) to see if the image comes up in other stories that say the same thing? You can cross check the topic – if you do a search on the topic, does this information come up in other places?
  • Ask – where did the post (or email) come from? Are they usually a reliable and good source of information? Check for unusual addresses or URLs like “.lo” or “.com.co”
  • Think – Does the person who wrote this post want you to buy something? What is it? Even if it’s not an actual object they want you to buy, do they want you to buy their idea or their point of view. Are they trying to hurt or upset someone with what they have posted? Is it news or is it gossip? Is it persuasive, based or facts or opinions? Does it fit with other things you know about this topic?
Just as we do in everyday “real” life, we want children to be able to spend time on the internet without being gullible or vulnerable to dodgy elements…and just like in everyday life, we have to find that balance between too much and too little supervision. As always, this balance will depend on your values as parents or educators as well as the many individual factors that vary from child to child and from situation to situation. There is a balance between light-hearted and full-on-scary that we need to find and if we nail it, we can actually get the Internet Monster to work on our side. Generally speaking, if we encourage children to be curious in the spaces they play and learn – to look, ask and think, we can help them to be savvy and safe.

While Shona is regularly engaged to deliver assessments, reports and treatment for troubled children and young people, she is also available for consulting, speaking and workshops. Call Shona Innes Psychology on 0400 150 106 or email: admin@shonainnes.com or contact us via this website.

Shona Innes is also the Author of "The Big Hug Series" of Children's books Published by The Five Mile Press