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If you are worrying how to protect your child online, download our Family Media Agreement and read our tips on eSafety.
Protecting our children from danger in their day to day life is always a balancing act. How much freedom is enough for them to grow into independent and confident adults, while still keeping them safe?
Basic Set Up
First install Parental Controls on your computer. It is helpful to have a separate account for your children’s usage, with parental controls and google safe search installed. Doing this means that you don’t have to remember to switch parental controls on and off when your children use the PC or Mac. You can protect each account with a password so that they cannot go onto your account instead of their own.
Set up email addresses for your kids, with a copy of the email going into your own account, so that you can ensure that they are not being contacted by anyone you don’t know in RL. It goes without saying that you need good spam filter on your email account. To be honest, this advice is almost outdated, as few kids actually use email, preferring instant messaging services. They’ll need email addresses for signing up to various websites, but they’ll probably not use it much.
Where is your computer set up? It should be somewhere you can observe the children. This does not mean you need to sit next to them – give them a bit of space and privacy – but you should be able to glance at the screen in passing and check that they are not doing anything dodgy. As they get older, they may have a computer, tablet or smartphone that they use in their room.
Remember that even if you do not allow them to do so at home, they may well be going online elsewhere, at school or at a friends house. You can have your PC locked down with all sorts of programmes that do not allow sexual, violent or disturbing content, but their friend’s parents may not have done the same.
Another important point is that our children are used to using the computer, from a young age, and before you know they may well be more internet and computer literate than you are. It is not unusual for teenage hackers to get around the parental controls. There is only so much that you can do.
You may have heard about the new opt-in child safety filters for Internet Service Providers (ISPs). These are being introduced with the intent of blocking pornography and violent content, not just on your PC but for your entire internet connection. The idea behind this is that you can block these sites on any gadget used to access the internet. There are many issues with these filters, e.g., they have been revealed to block access to sex education sites but not block hardcore porn. I also think that filters lure parents who lack IT savvy into a false sense of security. They do NOT protect your child when he or she leaves your house.
It also discourages parents from having difficult and awkward conversations about sex, porn and the dangers of the internet.
Parents – this is YOUR responsibility. You can’t dodge it, or pass it off to the school.
Hold a Family Meeting
It is important to start talking to your child about internet safety as soon as they start to use the internet. The best control and protection is not the software, it is informing your child of the dangers in an age-appropriate manner, and being visible.
Speak to the school, and find out what they are teaching the kids about eSafety. Some schools will go beyond cyberbullying, and cover other topics, such as reputation management. Whether or not the school deals with this, talk to your child yourself about the dangers of the internet, in an age appropriate manner.
For all age groups, make house rules and stick to them. How long they are allowed to use the internet, what websites they can look at, internet safety rules. Agree beforehand what the sanctions will be if they break these rules, but don’t make them draconian! If your child thinks that you will react to them having an unpleasant online encounter, with the removal of online privileges or gadgets, they may be unwilling to talk to you about any issues. OurFamily Media Agreement is a starting point – you can add points that you or your kids feel are necessary.
Toddler to Tween
For younger children, this means telling them that they are only allowed to use the computer to look at certain websites – Cbeebies or Playhouse Disney for example. Show your children how to access these websites (add them to their bookmarks) and ensure that they know not to go else where. This phase lasts till the children are about 5 or 6 years old and their school friends tell them of other fantastic websites. And they learn the wonder of Google!
You can use whitelists on Parental Controls. On iPads and iPods, look at the Guided Access function, which enables you to lock the device to a specific app.
“Just google it!”. School children are used to searching the net for information, and many schools expect their pupils to use the internet when doing their homework. Safe search is your friend here, but don’t rely on it completely.
Children of this age can be frightened easily so you have to tread carefully. A neutrally worded comment, “You know how in school there are children who are nice to you and children who are not so nice? Some children you don’t get on well with, and you want to avoid. It is the same on the internet. So you have to learn to avoid people who are not so nice. There are also adults who put things on the internet that are not nice, and we don’t want you seeing things like that. It is important for you to only go on the internet when an adult is nearby and only on websites that we agree on”.
Have a look to see if you can find websites that you like, together with your kids. Make a list of ones that they enjoy using, and when they are in bed, spend an evening having a good look around, paying particular attention to sites that have online communication or instant messaging. These sites are to be used with caution by young people, as they cannot tell if the person they are talking to is another tween, or an adult.
In the past few years, YouTube has grown in popularity. It has even started to replace Google as a search engine, with kids watching videos rather than reading explanations. When you switch on SafeSearch on Google, it automatically blocks some adult content on YouTube. With millions of videos uploaded daily, it is however impossible for YouTube to be 100% safe for children. Ensure that your children know that they may see content that is upsetting or frightening, and that they know what to do if this happens – talk to an adult, and report/block the video.
SafeSearch will block some popular YouTubers, so you may have to make a decision based on how likely you think it is that your child will stray from agreed channels. You can make a playlist of agreed channels, and save it on your account.
Once the children get slightly older, it gets less easy to stop them using certain websites, so all you can do is make sure they know how to use them sensibly and safely.
With many children now owning mobile phones, tablets and gaming consoles that enable them to go online, it can be incredibly easy for them to see content that you would rather they didn’t. Even a few years ago, the Telegraph was reporting that as many as 60% of children were being accidentally exposed to porn online – that percentage has surely risen with more and more children being able to access the internet on their mobile device. Most mobile phone networks offer a parental control service, but this must be activated, it is not automatically installed. As with the ISP filtering, this has the disadvantage of blocking sites that provide sexual education.
Again, this is only going to stop your child accessing dodgy websites on his or her mobile. It does not prevent them looking at disturbing images or films that another child has on their device. You can speak to the parents of your child’s friends, but there will always be someone at school whose parents are less concerned (or simply less informed).
Talk to your child about pornography. Ensure that they know that there are people who film themselves during sex, and put these images online and that they may find these images disturbing, or embarrassing. Give them the information upfront and it will not be so shocking. Tell them that they can talk to you about it, or to another adult if they prefer.
It might be difficult for you to talk about these things, but it is much easier for kids to come to you and ask for advice, if you’ve already talked about the kind of thing they might see.
Rules for Chat Rooms and Social Media
Don’t use your real name on websites, use a pseudonym (if allowed on the site).
Choose a neutral picture for your avatar (the little picture next to your name), don’t use a picture of yourself, or make it non-identifiable eg a close-up of your eyes. If you do want to put a ‘face’ on your profile, make sure you don’t have school tie or badge showing.
The person you are chatting to might be another 14 year teenager. He might not be. Don’t give out information that would identify yourself, ie. name, address, phone number, picture of home or school.
If the person wants to chat to you off board (ie. private mail facility on the website) only do this if you want to. Think of it like being at a party and someone wants to take you into a separate room to chat to you. Would you feel comfortable with that? If not, say no.
If you put a photo online, remember that once it is out there, you cannot take it back. You have no control over what that person does with it. If you can’t keep it to yourself, then don’t trust anyone else to keep it to themselves! Do the school assembly test. Would you be mortified if that photo was beamed onto the wall at school assembly? Then don’t put it online.
Do not give out your email address to anyone you do not know in RL.
If anyone you are chatting to online makes you feel uncomfortable, talk to an adult. Or check out the website Thinkuknow.co.uk
Know how to block people if they make you feel uncomfortable, or if they try bully you into doing something that you don’t want to do.
A Quick Overview of the Legal Situation on Social Media
First we have to look at COPPA. The Child Online Privacy Protection Act is a US law passed in 1998 to protect the privacy of children under the age of 13 years old. The Act specifies that websites must require parental consent for the collection or use of any personal information of children using the site. As you can imagine, and law that was written in 1998 is already quite dated, so we can expect to see updates and changes at some point in the coming years.
In the European Union, plans are afoot to introduce similar regulation – the adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation is aimed for in 2014 and the regulation is planned to take effect in 2016 after a transition period of 2 years.
A lot of sites state that children under 13 years are legally banned from using Facebook and Twitter, but this is misleading. The truth is that companies would have to introduce extra checks and measures to ensure that their users are complying with COPPA, and for most of them it is simpler to say ‘No kids allowed’.
CEOP – Child Exploitation and Online Protection – portal to report online content that exploits or endangers children
Thinkuknow – CEOP’s online information portal for children and adults with information about child safety online
Childline – You can phone, email or chat to an advisor if something is worrying you. For children and their parents.
Internet Watch Foundation – portal to report online content such as child pornographic images hosted worldwide