The “Growing up digital” report issued by the Children’s Commissioner in January said this is what many young children face when they go online. Schools do provide some information but the report said it was far too limited. So what can parents do?
Parents have always faced the task of helping children learn how to deal with real world problems, and eventually to fend for themselves. It’s just as important that our children learn how to be “streetwise” online and they need our help there too. Young children need to be protected from online information which is inappropriate for their age. Older children need to know such things as what to do about “cyber-bullying” or contacts from strangers, and how to avoid the dangers of “over-sharing” personal information – nearly a third of 15 year olds say they have shared a naked selfie of themselves.
To protect young children you can set restrictions on the uses of the latest smartphones and you can select filters on your home broadband. The website saferinternet.org.uk provides details and gives this SMART advice for young users:
Safe: Keep safe by being careful not to give out personal information when you’re chatting or posting online. Personal information includes your email address, phone number and password.
Meet: Meeting someone you have only been in touch with online can be dangerous. Only do so with your parents’ or carers’ permission and even then only when they can be present. Remember online friends are still strangers even if you have been talking to them for a long time.
Accepting: Accepting emails, IM messages, or opening files, images or texts from people you don’t know or trust can lead to problems – they may contain viruses or nasty messages!
Reliable: Someone online might lie about who they are and information on the internet may not be true. Always check information by looking at other websites, in books, or with someone who knows. If you like chatting online it’s best to only chat to your real world friends and family.
Tell: Tell a parent, carer or a trusted adult if someone, or something, makes you feel uncomfortable or worried, or if you or someone you know is being bullied online.
You can keep up-to-date with the main social media children are using and their potential problems at net-aware.org.uk but many other apps now include communication and sharing options. Saferinternet.org.uk provides the following advice for older children:
Protect your online reputation: use the services provided to manage your digital footprints and ‘think before you post.’ Content posted online can last forever and could be shared publicly by anyone.
Know where to find help: understand how to report to service providers and use blocking and deleting tools. If something happens that upsets you online, it’s never too late to tell someone.
Don’t give in to pressure: if you lose your inhibitions you’ve lost control; once you’ve pressed send you can’t take it back.
Respect the law: use reliable services and know how to legally access the music, film and TV you want.
Acknowledge your sources: use trustworthy content and remember to give credit when using others’ work/ideas.
The website internetmatters.org is another good source of information and the BBC will be launching an online safety channel within their Lifebabble CBBC service in February. If you think your child might be the target of online bullying, grooming or other abuse then you can find useful information at nspcc.org.uk and our national site citizensadvice.org.uk