Safer Internet Day: Advice for Parents
Today is Safer Internet Day so we've put together some advice for parents on helping their children keep safe online.
A recent study from research agency Childwise showed that teenagers now use social networks and on demand services such as YouTube, more than they watch conventional television channels.
We often get asked whether there have been more cases of exploitation with the proliferation of the internet. A Newsround survey released today carried out by Comres, found that nearly eight out of ten 10-12 year olds in the UK has at least one social media account, despite the fact many networks say you have to be 13 to sign up. One in three said they’d made friends on social media that they haven’t met in person.
Whilst this demonstrates that there are many risks associated with the internet, we never want parents or young people to fear it. The internet is a great way to enable us to connect, communicate and learn and is largely a positive tool. However, with constant new apps, games and social networking sites, it can be a challenge to keep up to date with online advancements.
Today, February 9th, is Safer Internet Day, organised by the UK Safer Internet Centre, and this year’s theme is “Play your part for a better internet.” We wanted to explain to parents some of the risks, particularly in relation to sexual exploitation and grooming and how they can play a part in helping to keep their children safe online.
Some of the risks online and how parents can tackle them:
Sexually explicit messages and images (sexting)
The National Crime Agency have said that sending nude or explicit images on social media has now become “normal” among teenagers but that it was leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, blackmail or even criminal charges.
An NSPCC study of 150 young people aged 13-14 in 2012 found that the majority knew someone who had sent sexualised images of themselves via mobile or social media, which had been distributed round their school or peer group and the victim had then been subjected to abuse and bullying.
It’s against the law if you’re under 18 to take or share an ‘indecent’ picture of yourself or share someone else’s. This includes anyone who is naked, a girl who is topless or if contains genitals or sexual acts.
Whether your child has taken and/or shared the image/detail willingly, naively or whether they have been coerced or blackmailed into taking and sharing such photos or posting details of a sexual nature; as soon as it has been shared, it’s out of their hands and their control in terms of where it ends up. This leaves them open to the risk of bullying or blackmail and exploitation; all of which can have long lasting consequences for young people throughout their childhood and into adult life.
Therefore, it’s important to talk to your child about what might happen if they send an explicit image of themselves – even if that person is someone they trust, if it gets passed on, there’s no way for them to get it back. It’s important that young people feel they are able to speak to an adult to seek support if this has happened to them and that you report this to the police.
Who they talk to online
While it’s easy to feel anonymous online, the reality is that the majority of content is available for anyone to view. Therefore, it’s important to talk to children about keeping their personal information safe online and think carefully about what they share, and with whom. If your child is using services that include privacy settings, then support them to put these in place so they have better control over who can see the content they post online and who they interact with.
It is important for children to realise that people are not always who they say they are online – some may lie about who they are and what they want. Talk to your child about not befriending anyone online that they don’t know in real life and never giving out personal information such as phone numbers, email addresses or where they go to school. Regularly checking their friends and followers lists and removing contacts can be useful. Importantly, don’t forget to apply this to online gaming – PC and games consoles – where there may be in-game communication with those they don’t know.
Discuss with your child the importance of reporting inappropriate conversations, messages, images and behaviours and how this can be done. If you have concerns that your child is, or has been, the subject of inappropriate sexual contact or approach by another person, it’s vital that you report it to the police.
Remind your child to always tell you or another trusted adult if they ever receive any messages from other users that try to persuade them to do anything that makes them feel worried or uncomfortable.
Tips for parents about internet safety
- Establish guidelines and boundaries for online and mobile/tablet use at home
- Consider using filtering software to block harmful or explicit content on all devices your child is using – contact your broadband provider for more information
- Familiarise yourself with privacy settings and reporting features on different websites
- Ask your child to let you, or someone else they trust, know if someone is making them feel comfortable with their behaviour online. Let them know they won’t be in trouble and someone will be able to help.
- Report instances of inappropriate online contact, abusive language or possible grooming and exploitation to CEOP
- Explain to your child the importance of keeping private things private – never sharing personal information or giving out their passwords to anyone but you as their parent/carer/guardian
- Encourage ‘think before you post’ and keep an open dialogue with your child about their online usage – have the conversation about the risks and encourage them to speak to you if they do make a mistake
- Consider using software that enables you to monitor internet usage on some devices (PCs, laptops, tablets etc.) and sends you emails or texts in real time if suspicious or unusual activity is detected.
There are many more resources for parents available on the UK Safer Internet Centre website.
You can get involved in the Safer Internet Day social media campaign ‘play your part and #shareaheart’ to share what you like about the internet and how we can make it a safer place for young people.
Please see the following websites for further help and advice on things mentioned in this article: