The internet is an integral part of our children’s lives. Although there can be dangers in using the internet, it is an extremely powerful tool which can be an invaluable source of learning as well as providing entertainment and a means of communication.
As children grow up, they are curious and want to take risks and test boundaries; this is a normal part of the maturing process. Doing this online, however, can have risks and can cause long term effects.
It is, therefore, important that parents/carers allow their children to strike a balance between exploration and developing their independence and making them aware of the dangers and what to do if things go wrong.
What are some of the risks?
- Exposure to inappropriate sexual content
- Sharing personal information
- Insecure privacy settings
- Sharing inappropriate images
- Illegal downloading
- Over-spending whilst gaming
- Opening unknown email attachments
What can parents/carers do to help to keep their children safe?
Talk about possible concerns and provide your child with safety tips for minimising risk online.
These include maintaining age appropriate boundaries, for example, having computers in a shared family space rather than individual bedrooms or limiting screen time, although this is becoming increasingly difficult with smartphones and other mobile devices; (having a “Leave your mobile downstairs at bedtime” can help).
Ensure that your child fully understands the dangers of talking to strangers online and the reasons why they should not.
Parents/carers need to explore with their children what constitutes a stranger in this digital age; children are often desperate for “friends” or “followers” online and will befriend anyone who makes a request. Parents/carers need to ensure that their children know not to give out personal information online, for example their telephone number, address or the school they attend. Young people must also be persuaded not to give their password to access their online social network sites to any other person, even their friends.
Reinforce with your child that once information, messages or pictures are posted online, they lose all control of their use or further circulation.
Make sure your child understands that some activities carried out online are illegal
e.g. sharing inappropriate images of young people, even if just passing them on, making threats or sending malicious messages electronically, illegally downloading content and plagiarism.
Ensure your child knows, and follow, the “Golden Rules”:
- Don't give out personal information such as your address or phone number
- Don’t send pictures of yourself to anyone, especially indecent pictures
- Don't open emails or attachments from people you don't know
- Don't become online ‘friends’ with people you don't know.
- Never arrange to meet someone in person who you've met online
- If anything you see or read online worries you, tell someone about it.
What to do if things go wrong
Young people need to be able to manage issues which may occur when they are online.
Most social networking sites now have a ‘Click CEOP’ button (‘CEOP’ is the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) that can be used to report inappropriate or worrying behaviour online. Sites that do not have this may have their own ways for reporting concerns. Criminal online content can be reported to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).
If young people are being bullied online or receiving malicious messages, this can be reported to the police.
NB Children may be very worried that their parents’/carers’ response to a problem will be to take away their internet access. Whilst this may be an appropriate response in some cases, the threat may be a barrier for a child who needs help.
Parents/carers should be aware of this when talking to their children about their internet use and should reassure their children that they can talk to them or a trusted adult whenever they need to.
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