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A Parents’ Guide to On-line Safety: Keep Your Kids Safe From Online Risks

A Parents’ Guide to On-line Safety:  Keep Your Kids Safe From Online Risks

61% of children go online to watch video clips

(Ofcom Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report Oct 2014)


What on-line issues can put your child at risk?

Inappropriate content- children can stumble upon this by accident or access links through apps or sent by friends as well as content in articles, games, unmoderated chatrooms, videos, songs or images. This inappropriate content can contain extreme violence against people or animals, swearing, gambling, suicide, racism and so much more.

Cyber-bullying- is bullying using electronic means such as text, social media, gaming and email subjecting others to threats, social exclusion, hacking accounts, manipulation or sending personal information publicly. This allows for bullying to happen 24 hours a day so the effects can go on & on and your child may feel as if they are targeted everywhere they go.

Sexting- is the sending & receiving of sexually explicit images by electronic means. Young people may send to their friends, boyfriend/girlfriend or even a stranger on-line if they are pressured to do so, manipulated or feel it’s a way to gain acceptance and part of a relationship. sexting or sending ‘nudes’ is illegal; ‘creating or distributing an indecent image of a child’ (under 18); plus, there is no control where the image will go once it’s ‘out there’.

My Rule- If it’s not something I would be comfortable with my Nan seeing, or people having access to forever, I won’t post or send the picture!

On-line reputation- Digital footprint’s can be created from pre-birth! Imagine all the information and pictures you or family members may post to update the world about your child’s progress from a scan picture to their first day at school. This means they have a footprint left across digital platforms even before they are old enough to set up their own social media or other digital accounts. A couple of risks include:

  • Your child’s identity being stolen for fraud affecting future credit scores
  • A comment said in haste or anger about someone online can be shared easily across digital platforms with negative effects and ruin friendships
  • People can post untrue information to try to tarnish their reputation
  • Sharing too much – can be regretted later on. Remember once it’s out there, it’s out there.

Think ahead- around 35% of employers use social media to screen applicants (think intoxicated weekend snaps or discriminatory/derogatory comments being made)!

On-line pornography- is a worry as it could contain violent, degrading content of people or animals and give an unrealistic expectation of sex in relationships.

Hints your child may be accessing on-line porn include;

  1. Switching screens when you come near to their device
  2. Odd charges on bank cards
  3. Use of sexual language
  4. Becoming defensive and/or secretive
  5. Explicit pop ups appear on devices (this could also be the sign of a virus)

Of course children and young adults could just be exploring curiosities or checking things out mentioned in peer groups but useful to keep and eye on the signs above & ensure they have the right sex and relationship education so they can make informed & healthy choices.

Radicalisation- people on-line may use social media to target vulnerable children & radicalise them to believe extreme views & encourage them into actions that are outside of their normal character. Secretive behaviours are a common part of teenage life, where they begin to break away from family and seek more freedom but they could also be signs of radicalisation such as; “A conviction that their religion, culture or beliefs are under threat and treated unjustly, A tendency to look for conspiracy theories and distrust of mainstream media, The need for identity and belonging …Possessing items – electronic devices or phones – you haven’t given them, Becoming emotionally volatile” - Internet Matters

 Check out founder of Just Me ON Life, Nadine Barrett, featured in this Fixers grooming awareness video:

On-line grooming- is the method abusers use to befriend a child on-line for the purpose of later sexually exploiting them. They often appear as a supportive figure interested in the child, giving time, attention and affection and this exchange can also include material goods (mobile phones etc) as well as credit or cheat info for games to help a child progress to the next level. They later take advantage of the child either on-line (persuasion or threats used to gain sexually explicit images/video’s or to participate in ‘live shows’ on web cam) or face to face where a meet-up is arranged. Here the abuse happens off-line. Some children never meet their abusers in real life and grooming & exploitation is all on-line any pictures/videos are in someone else’s hands.

All of these risks can lead to poor mental health including self harm as a physical response to emotional pain; a short term coping mechanism such as abusing drugs & alcohol, cutting, burning or pulling hair. Internet Matters Advice Pages indicate 1/3 parents wouldn't seek help if their child self-harmed yet over half of 11-14 year olds have self-harmed or know someone who has.

Remember filtering at home is only part of the solution as your children can access 3g, 4g and Wi-Fi hot spots when out & about! Talk to them about how to keep themselves safe.

How to protect your children online?

Open conversation- realise this is a different world your children are growing up with & technology is an integral part of the way they learn, communicate and their identity. You should not have ‘banned topics’ when it comes to talking to your kids. Try to be open, let them teach you about what websites, apps and games they like to use and why to create a safe space to share.

Support not condemnation- don’t judge, this will only make your child feel misunderstood and to blame and they will not open up to you and rather keep issues to themselves or seek support with their peers. Remember they are still learning about themselves and the world around them and the Internet can be used as a positive engaging tool to support their interests, hobbies, communication and skills building. If they feel you don’t want to understand or are negative they will often shut down and then may get the answers and sense of belonging from all the wrong places.

Clear Expectations- Agree what online behaviour is ok & not ok- i.e. how your child talks to others, which sites to visit, what they should do if they see something that makes them feel unsafe and what times they can access the internet. This will set clear boundaries and allow the space to explore and a safety plan if anything unwanted does come their way.

Report- Ensure your child knows how to block & report inappropriate content or behaviour via CEOP: Child Exploitation & Online Protection for any type of on-line exploitation.

Parental controls- You can use software & tools on phones, tablets, laptops, games consoles, home broadband & PC’s to filter or block content your child can see when searching online, stop them from downloading apps not appropriate for their age, plan what time of day the internet can be accessed.

 E.g. Some game devices let you turn off chat functions so your child can’t talk to strangers

Get Your How to Guides for BT, Sky, Talk Talk and Virgin Media broadband providers.

For more information and advice you can call the NSPCC & O2 parent hotline on 0808 800 5002. They can talk you through how to set up parental controls on different devices and give more information on topics of concern to you.

I hope this guide has not only been thought provoking but also useful for you to create a digitally friendly environment in your homes where you can all access the benefits of ‘being online’ as a family and avoid the pitfalls that come with being ‘global’.

 What are your thoughts and experiences with your children surfing the web - good or bad? Let me know in the comments box below.

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