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
Staying Safe Online
Online communication through various devices including smartphones, iPhones, iPods, iPads, Tablets, Games Consoles (i.e. Xbox or Playstation), Macs, and PCs is now embedded into the daily lives of most young people. Are you aware of the benefits and dangers and how to tell whether your child is using the technology safely?
Communication tools can be used in amazing ways to assist your child’s learning, from FaceTime or Skype chats over Maths homework to iMessage to remind a student about an appointment. Unfortunately, as with conversations in playgrounds and in town, some students will use the opportunity to discuss inappropriate topics or to bully other students. With photos and videos, this has now extended to sharing images that can, unfortunately, result in offensive or even illegal actions. Do you look at your child’s messaging programs to see what they are sharing?
Every time your child goes online, they leave a trail of information about themselves and their activity. This contributes to their overall online reputation and becomes their Digital Footprint! When this information is positive its great, but when not it can be disastrous.
Before sharing content using social media, messaging, texting etc. they should think of the following:
· Would they feel comfortable if this was hung on a billboard in the middle of town for all to see with their name on it?
· Does the message take into account others feelings? How would they feel if this was about them?
· Would they want this information linked to their name when they start college/university/work? Could it affect them having the career they want?
Read more about how you can help your child have a positive Digital Footprint at ParentINFO.
Surfing the web safely
Most modern web browsers (Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer) now have a ‘private browsing’ mode. Whilst this might be useful for protecting your web use if, for example, researching a surprise birthday gift, it is also used by people to try and hide their internet history. If your child is using ‘private browsing’, ask them why. If their internet browsing history is blank, what are they trying to hide? If you want to protect your whole house, speak to your Internet Service Provider about using Family Safe settings on your Broadband Router. OpenDNS offer a free service for families to monitor web use on their computers. The ideal place at home for an internet-connected laptop, tablet or desktop is in a communal area such as a family room where there will be some level of supervision. Smartphones and other internet-connected devices should not be left in bedrooms overnight, when their unsupervised use can lead to problems.
Cyber bullying is when a person or a group of people uses the internet, mobile phones, online games or any other kind of digital technology to threaten, tease, upset or humiliate someone else (definition from ChildLine: Cyberbullying is just as harmful as bullying in the real world and may, in some cases, result in prosecution by the Police. Those who take part in online bullying often use a group of friends to target their victims by asking them to add a comment to a photo on a blog, or asking them to forward it onto another group of friends.)
Types of Cyberbullying
There are lots of different types of cyberbullying. These are the main ones:
Sending emails that can be threatening or upsetting to a single target, or to a group of people to encourage them to become part of the bullying. These messages or ‘hate mails’ can include examples of racism, sexism and other types of prejudice.
Instant messenger and chatrooms:
Sending instant messenger and chatroom messages to friends or direct to a victim. Others can be invited into the bullying conversation, who then become part of it by laughing.
Social networking sites:
Setting up profiles on social networking sites to make fun of someone. By visiting these pages or contributing to them, students can become part of the problem.
Sending humiliating and abusive text or video messages, as well as photo messages and phone calls over a mobile phone.
Abusing personal information:
Many victims of cyberbullying have complained that they have seen personal photos, emails or blog postings posted where others could see them without their permission. Social networking sites make it a lot easier for web users to get hold of personal information and photos of people. They can also get hold of someone else’s messaging accounts and chat to people pretending to be the victim.
The effects of cyberbullying:
Even though cyberbullying cannot physically hurt students, it can still leave them feeling mentally vulnerable and very upset. Students can also feel scared, lonely and stressed and that there’s no way out.
How to deal with cyberbullying:
If a student or someone a student knows is being cyber bullied, they must report it to the school. It is important to put a stop to it before it gets any worse. No matter how careful the bully is to cover their tracks, the police can track digital fingerprints down to an individual computer or mobile phone. Contacting the mobile operator or the Instant messenger or social network service provider to report what has happened can also be a useful step. If a student receives offensive comments they can print them out and make a complaint to the police. Students must avoid abusive phone calls by only answering calls from the numbers they know.`
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.
How to report somebody
If someone has made you feel weird or uncomfortable online you can report it. It could be sexual chat, being asked to do something you don't want to on webcam or someone asking to meet up.
- Talk to someone you trust about it, either a friend or family member.
- Contact ChildLine for advice and support.
- Report somebody to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre.
Stay safe on social media
When using social media sites its important to know how to adjust the privacy settings and where to find help if you want to block or delete someone.
- Facebook - Advice on staying safe and how to review your privacy settings
- Instagram - Safety tips and community guidelines
- Snapchat - Safety centre
- Twitter - Tips for teens
- You Tube - Teen safety
You can also watch some videos where students at The Towers Convent School and St Philip Howard Catholic School give their views on what healthy relationships, consent and online safety mean to them.
Useful websites for Online Safety Information
UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCISS)
UKCISS has launched two new guides to support parents and carers in the area of online safety (e-safety). Both guides focus on children using social media and apps. They can be found below:
OurPact is a leading parental control app for iPhones, iPads, and iPods that makes it easy for you to set limits on how much time your children are spending on their mobile devices. Create schedules, block all Internet and app use at a moment’s notice or reward them with the allowance feature.
Zipit is ChildLines's first ever App, available for Android, Apple and Blackberry smartphones.
Here you can find useful tips to help keep your child stay safe online from the national online safety website: