A Parent’s Guide to Staying Safe Online

Software is not necessarily the answer.

A Parent’s Guide to Staying Safe Online

A parent’s guide to staying safe online

While some parents may consider themselves good with technology, a surprising number admit to having a lack of knowledge when it comes to keeping their children safe online. According to figures produced by Ofcom and quoted by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) of those homes in which children have access to the internet almost half of parents (48%) with children in the 5 to 15 age range think they know less about the internet than their children do. This rises to 70% of parents of 12-15 year olds. In addition, 33% of children age 12 to 17 claim their parents do not know what they do online (Ofcom 2011).

Although e-safety is a key part of the new British Computing Curriculum for schools, it is still important that parents understand the potential risks of allowing children access to the internet at home and what they can do to prevent any issues.

There are three main areas which parents need to be aware of:

  • Cyberstalking/grooming- this is where someone pretends to become the child’s friend in order to get them to meet up. There have been many high profile cases reported of children or teenagers going missing after being contacted by someone on the internet. Most children know not to give out personal information but it is still easy for them to be talked around into giving away more information than they should, sometimes without knowing about it. One popular social media app, Snapchat, allows you to take pictures to share with your friends. Although a child might not ‘say’ where they live clues can be gathered from things in the picture. For example the school logo on a jumper can be used in a search in Google images which in turn gives a real world location for the child.
  • Cyber bullying- bullying that takes place via technology whether via text message, social media such as Facebook or when playing online games.
  • Seeing inappropriate content- the internet can be a wonderful resource of information and is useful for finding out a wide variety of facts on almost any topic, which your child can use for their homework. The downside of this is that much of the information is not age appropriate and it is startlingly easy for them to come across something which they should not be viewing.

Based on advice given by the CEOP there are a number of solutions to help keep your children safe online. Firstly ensure that the security settings on any computer, iPad or phone which your child uses are set to an appropriate level. Each device will have its own method of security, for example Apple ask for an adult to sign up to its iTunes service and from there you can set appropriate controls on what apps the phone/iPad access. Android devices will have similar settings.

Although it’s worth pointing out this is not a flawless method of security. Firstly there is no guarantee that the security settings will totally block inappropriate content and, secondly, it is also possible that the settings will also block some valuable and useful information. It is also possible to activate parental controls via your internet provider. For example BT has a series of parental controls for their internet service which will block certain websites from being accessed at home. Again these settings are not foolproof and will not stop all inappropriate content or may limit what other, adult, users access as well.

Make sure that any security settings on social networks are set to the highest level. These will need constant review as any changes to the site make previous settings out of date. An additional precaution would be to make sure that your children add you as their friend on sites such as Facebook. This will allow you to see what sorts of posts they are sharing and being asked to comment on. It is worth adding that the age limit for almost all social networks is 13. This is because the companies are based in America so this age limit is set to comply with current American law. While Facebook, for example, is quite open about this age limit others, including Twitter, are not with the age being ‘buried’ deep within its terms and conditions of use.

The final solution is probably the hardest one to do and that is to ensure that you have an open conversation about the people they talk to online and the websites they visit. Show an interest in the sorts of activities they do online and make a note of their favourite websites which you can visit later while they are at school if you feel it necessary. By keeping the communication channels open then, hopefully, your child will feel able to tell you should they become concerned about something.

It is important to remember that, should you feel your child is access inappropriate content or, perhaps, being bullied there are people you can turn to for help. If you suspect children at your child’s school are involved then it would be worth having a discrete word with their class teacher. Although there is very little schools can do about what goes on outside of school most will be willing to ‘have a word’ as any bully is likely to impact on what goes on in the classroom. If this doesn’t work or you believe the people involved are not at school then you can contact the CEOP for further advice or make a report. The CEOP have a lot of, up to date, information and a reporting function for any incidents.

Further information can be found here. You will need to register by filling in a short online form but all of the information is free to download once you have done so.

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Colin R. Browne
Colin R. Browne
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Colin R. Browne

I'm a teacher and freelance writer working in Cumbria, England with a keen interest in technology and education.

I also write for the Egremont 2 Day newspaper and have written for Qercus, a computer magazine for the RISC OS operating system.

See all posts by Colin R. Browne