Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Sept. 8, 2014

Tips for How Parents Can Help Their Children Search Safely and Effectively Online

E-Safety Adviser

The Internet opens up an incredible world of exploration and education. One of the fundamental and critical skills that children need to successfully navigate that world is to be able to search effectively online. But by its very nature, simply carrying out a search can reveal results that are not appropriate, even if using a completely innocent word or string of words. 

So what can we do to alleviate this problem?

The first thing we need to understand is that children are going to see things on the Internet that upsets them. This is a fact which we may not like as parents, but it’s going to happen. So, we need to reassure our children that even though they may come across unexpected content, we are there to help them. If they do see something that they don’t like, it isn’t their fault, and they should come to us for help.

It can sometimes feel like you have no control over the results that come back from a search, but that’s not strictly true. Let’s have a look at a couple of examples:

Perhaps the most widely known search ‘engine’ is Google, who have a very clear and commendable commitment to child safety. Go to your Google homepage, for example. At the bottom of the page you will see ‘Settings’. If you click on this you will see a popup window, at the top of that window is ‘Search Settings’. By clicking on this item, you will then see at the top of the page, 'SafeSearch Filters', you can turn this on to filter explicit results such as videos and images. It isn’t 100% perfect, but it does a pretty good job. If you have young children, my recommendation would be that you sign up for a Google Gmail account. You don’t have to use the email, but by signing up for an account you can switch on SafeSearch and your children won’t be able to switch it off without your password. What’s more, you can apply this across all of the devices that your children might use, and importantly, across YouTube too.

If you prefer not to use Google, one alternative is DuckDuckGo. In this day of information privacy, more and more people want to be free of advertising, or to be assured that their browsing habits aren’t being tracked. This site prides itself on privacy and also has a facility to omit adult material, which spookily enough is called Safe Search. 

Make Your Online Searches More Effective 

 A surefire way of cutting down on the amount of irrelevant (or inappropriate) results is to make your searches more effective, and this is a key skill for all of us in this digital age, particularly children. You don’t need to use things such as punctuation or capital letters because search engines ignore those, but here are a few tips for a more effective search:

  • If you want an exact search, use quotes (“ ”). This is very useful for searching things like lyrics from songs or quotes from books and basically forces Google to do an exact word search. 
  • At the top of the Google page, you’ll see a menu (Web, Videos, Images etc.). You can use these to specify the media you are searching for, e.g. Web is for web pages, video is for videos etc. If you look further along you’ll see 'Search Tools', you can use this feature to tailor your search even further, perhaps to a specific country in the last year or last month. 
  • Do you need to know where a picture has come from or search for similar pictures? You can do this by right-clicking on the image and selecting, 'Search Google for this image.' One of the better ways to do a ‘reverse image search’ is to use Tineye

You don’t even need to stick to the run-of-the-mill websites, there are hundreds of advanced search engines for specific topics and categories that are enormously useful for you and your children. One of the more famous is Wolfram Alpha; this is a really powerful search engine and well worth a look, particularly if your children are getting older.

There is so much to searching, these few words don’t even touch the surface, but if you start to understand and help your children with some of the more advanced ways to search, you will find the experience far more pleasurable, appropriate, and effective. Start off with the basics and learn with your child. Before long, you’ll be finding fantastic new ways to do things.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr