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Online Safety and Internet Security

The internet is a great educational tool, providing information for homework and learning as well as advice – but it comes with hidden dangers. If you don't keep your eye on them, children may be exposed to inappropriate material, or lured into chatting with strangers. You can protect them from many influences, but your child will need to take responsibility for their own safety as they grow and become more independent .This guide gives you some brief pointers.

Background

Research shows that, on average, children spend over 6 hours a day on computers, smartphones, watching TV or playing video games. Another report showed that, even in 2013, 57% of 3-17 year olds used the internet at home, compared with only 11% in 1997. With the upsurge in mobile and wearable devices, we are increasingly connected.

New government measures set in 2015 ensure that all schools use effective safety filters, and that children are educated about online threats.

As parents, you will also want to protect your child, so here are some useful tips for online safety.

Limit access

It is wise to limit your child’s access to internet content, and to restrict their time spent online.

Supervision

Supervise young children’s internet time, partly to learn subjects together but also to learn about the internet – good and bad. Make browsing a positive experience but offer warnings too, and encourage them to talk to you about what they are doing. Always set clear boundaries.

Ideally, the PC or laptop should be used in an open family area where you can keep an eye on what your child is doing. That way you’ll be on hand to help them with homework, and there is less chance of them connecting to unsavoury sites.

Many children prefer to study in silence though, so being surrounded by family may not help their learning. And phones and tablets mean internet access is available almost everywhere.

Parental controls

Most internet providers have parental controls, so that children can be blocked from:

  • accessing certain websites
  • searching for keywords that may lead to inappropriate material
  • accessing social media sites, preventing people from contacting them online

Older children may complain that these restrictions stop them from accessing sites they need for homework and from talking to their friends. If you’re open to wider access, create a ‘Safe List’ of specific websites you will allow them to access – but teach them safety guidelines first.

Encourage them to tell you if a website appears onscreen accidentally. If unsuitable, add it to the filter list.

Some internet providers have ‘Broadband Shields’, enabling you to block websites based on daytime/evening access (see Safer Internet). You can set a security rating that matches the level of protection you want – PG, 13 or 18, for example.

Restrict the amount of time

Establish some ‘Internet and Phone-free’ times, not only to connect as a family but also to make sure that children don’t get headaches, eyesight problems or repetitive strain injuries from too much mouse or keyboard action!

In 2015, 65% of 8-11 year olds reportedly owned a smartphone – with Internet access 24/7. For younger children especially, take away mobile phones and tablets overnight so that they can sleep!

Smartphones

Contact your mobile network to ensure that appropriate filters are in place and to restrict mobile data. That way you won’t be surprised by expensive phone bills.

When you’re out, look for ‘Friendly Wi-Fi’ where inappropriate material is already blocked. Apps can also be downloaded to block certain content on smartphones.

Anti-virus software

Always keep up to date. Spammers or inappropriate emails can easily be added to a ‘blocked’ list.

Personal safety guidelines

Educate children from an early age of the possible dangers on the internet. Make sure they know what action to take if they feel threatened, scared or violated by anything online.

The National Crime Agency runs a helpful website, ThinkUKnow, for parents exploring the risks of Internet usage. It has things you can discuss with your children and advice on some concerns you may have.

As children get older they will want more independence, more freedom to use the internet and more privacy to chat with friends on social media. Before you can let them have it they’ll need to understand internet safety for themselves.

Here are some general tips:

  • Communication is vital. Spend time discussing websites your child wants to access and talk to them about what they think is acceptable or unacceptable to share online
  • Explain that the internet is an easy place for people to pretend to be someone they’re not. They should not trust anyone they don’t know personally
  • Emphasise the importance of not giving out personal details such as their name, address, age, school, or where they are going. Explain why they should not divulge this information
  • Tell them never to share or post personal photographs of themselves
  • Tell them not to speak to strangers and never arrange to meet anyone in real life that they have only seen online. Reassure them that they can always talk to you and tell them that they should if someone they do not know has contacted them
  • Teach them not to open emails from unknown people or click on links in emails that might contain viruses or spam
  • Make sure that they don’t click on any pop-ups and that they tell you if a website not on the ‘Safe List’ has appeared
  • Let them know that you are there to support them and keep them safe. Always encourage them to talk to you if anything has worried or upset them
  • Be aware that bullying as well as friendship takes place over the internet and social media

Final thoughts

The internet is a fantastic educational tool. It gives children the opportunity to develop research skills and independent learning. But do set rules and boundaries to avoid its dangers and encourage your children to speak openly with you. Educating your child about internet safety is one of the most valuable things you can do for them. Most importantly, make sure they know that you are there to support and protect them if anything on the internet worries them.

  1. According to a recent study, teenage boys have more screen time than anybody else. How much time do they spend in front of a TV, a games console, a mobile, a computer or a tablet on an average day?
    Eight-year-old girls have the least screen time - a mere 312 hours per day. Children today are watching much less TV than they used to but spending much more time online
  2. Which of the following locations is the best for the family computer?
    The study might provide the best conditions for work (peace and quiet!) but it's a bit too private. You really need to see what your child is doing online so communal areas are better places for computers. However, today's mobile phones allow internet access pretty much anywhere so you can't constantly monitor your child
  3. Internet filters allow you to block certain websites. Which sorts of websites can you choose to block?
    Most internet providers give you filters to block age-restricted content. You can also download other filters which let you block any site you want to. You can even set things up so that your child can only look at websites from your own 'approved' list
  4. Iain McGilchrist, a leading psychiatrist, has said that smartphones are making children display symptoms of which disorder?
    According to Dr. McGilchrist, children were less able to read facial expressions because of too much interaction with technology, and some were displaying borderline autistic behaviour. It's been claimed elsewhere that many young children are failing to learn social skills because their parents are too enthralled with their phones, and 15% of 4-year-olds start school unable to hold a conversation
  5. Apps can be fun and also educational but they come with some dangers. Which of the following might be a problem with an app?
    There have been many instances of scam apps - fake malware protectors for example which do nothing but take your money. There are websites that give reviews of apps and tell you what age they are suitable for. Here's a good one: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-reviews#
  6. Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites are very popular with children. What is the minimum age required to have an account on them?
    You may not be aware but you must be at least 13 to have an account with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, Gmail, Tumblr or YouTube
  7. Many children like to make posts on social media, some of which are visible to the public. Which of these is it alright for them to share with people they don't know?
    There are many things which it is not a good idea to share on the internet - our dates of birth, photos of our homes, personal information about our friends or members of out family... Make sure that your children know exactly who can see any posts they make. All social media sites have privacy controls to protect their users
  8. What should your child do if they feel uncomfortable or concerned about something online?
    It is vitally important that your child communicates with you. Encourage them to come to you with any concerns they have, no matter how small. Talk to them often and make sure they know what is acceptable on the web and what is not
  9. A report into children's use of technology found that what percentage of young people had received nasty private messages via smartphone apps?
    The Wireless Report 2014 found a lot of worrying facts, including that 47% of youngsters have had bullying posts on their profile pages and 42% have been victims of online racism or homophobia
  10. According to the same report, how many 15 year olds have sent a naked photo of themselves at least once?
    The shocking statistics show that 5% of 13 year olds send naked photos of themselves more than once a week. Try to get your child to think before they click and to realise that anything they put onto the internet, even if they think it is private, may well come back to haunt them. How would they feel if everyone at school got to see the picture?

 

Author: Linda Innes

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