Your little baby might be gurgling away, happy with just a rattle to keep them occupied. But it doesn't take too long before they'r running about, and trying to climb on your lap to go on your computer.
There are lots of programs and websites to entertain (and educate) children from the age of toddlers and upwards. The important thing to keep in mind is that the internet is going to be a major part of your child's life. This is not something we had when we were growing up. So we've not really got any already tested rules to fall back on.
The best idea is to start to instill good internet practice and commonsense in your child right from the start. There's also a few other tips you can follow, especially as your child gets older and is more independent in their computer use. It is quite possible they'll have their own laptop before they get to secondary school, so pay attention now!
Before the age of five, few children independently use a computer. They'll need at least some supervision getting it up and running. However, there is some indication that once online, many children as young as five years old are left unsupervised to explore the internet on their own.
A survey by Plymouth Council last year found that three quarters of under fives used the internet every day, with the majority allowed to do so unsupervised. If you're child isn't reading yet, or isn't a strong reader, then the chances of them falling prey to a paedophile at this young age is probably pretty minimal.
So, some commonsense here. I would be more worried about a child accidentally clicking on something inappropriate to be honest. My son managed to find some rather interesting video clips on animal cruelty because I'd left my Facebook page open in a tab on the browser. When bored with the game he was playing, he simply clicked around, and one of those clicks bought him to the video clips.
Still I guess a vegetarian child isn't the worst that could have happened.
The primary years
Internet safety is now a part of the school curriculum, as part of their ICT program. It might be a good idea to find out from the teacher what resources they'll be using, so you can familiarise yourself and back these up at home.
Hector's World is great for this - and to help educate us parents too. These are cartoons about internet safety aimed at providing children with age appropriate information to keep them safe.
This is on CEOP's Think Now website, which is well worth having a good look around. CEOP - child exploitation and online protection centre - are a part of the police force tasked with tracking down online paedophiles, rescuing children who are being abused online (they've very good at finding location from the most innocuous items in a photo) and generally protecting our kids. True superheroes if there ever were any.
CEOP point out that from the age of 8 and upwards many children are already using social networking sites (despite the restrictions these are meant to have, to stop under 13 year olds from signing up). If you're a parent who doesn't know a thing about social networking, then at least have a go at Facebook.
The Plymouth study found that 88 percent of parents thought they understood all the dangers that children face online. However, if they're not really using the internet or social media they won't really get it. And technology moves fast. Do check on what your child is into, and what sites are popular with them and their friends.
Don't think of it as benign. Children can, and do, use the internet for bullying. It can be unpleasant to hear nasty things said about you in the playground - think how much that is amplified when you know it is on a webpage that anyone can read, at any time - and that most of the kids at your child's school will read.
Secondary school years
It becomes even more crucial that you're as familiar with the sites your child is using, as they are. Especially as they come to the teen years. Here they'll be using sites that encourage the posting of photographs. CEOPs call these self-generated materials, and they're increasingly finding these images on the hard drives of paedophiles.
As most adults don't seem to understand Facebook privacy settings, and many have their photos set to public view, this is understandable.
Parental control software
These are programs that help you set limits on what your child can do on the computer. You do need to allow them some independence, especially as they get older - you have to trust that you've taught them enough to survive on their own. But only you know what's truly age appropriate for your child, and that's where parental control software comes in handy.
The good news is that you've probably already got these controls on your computer.
If you're using Windows Vista or Windows 7 you'll have parental controls built in to the operating system. You can use it to block access to games (many have age limits) and to specific programs as well as setting time limits online.
Mac OSX has similar settings.