original: 12/06/2014, updated: 30/01/2017
The growth of the internet has provided an invaluable learning tool for children. However, the increasing ease with which children are able to access the web has given rise to a number of problems relating to child safety. The potentially most harmful problems young people can encounter using the internet include:
- Inappropriate contact from people who may wish to abuse, exploit or bully children.
- Inappropriate conduct due to their own or others’ online behaviour or the sharing of personal information. They may also become either targets or perpetrators of cyber-bullying.
- Accessing Inappropriate content such as sexually explicit, racist, violent, extremist or other harmful material
Playing online video games, engaging with social media, and searching for inappropriate content can have potentially harmful consequences to users who have yet to develop the emotional maturity to view critical situations subjectively.
There are a few steps a parent or guardian can take to combat the above. The first and perhaps most important step is to educate your child about the potential dangers posed by the internet; this way they will be more likely to recognise these dangers and/or avoid them completely. It’s equally important to teach them what to do when something happens – consult a parent, guardian or teacher or, if they do not feel comfortable doing so, have an online discussion with a Childline counsellor or give them a ring on 08001111 at any time (it’s free).
Another issue which has been exacerbated by the availability of the internet through mobile phones is the sharing of private or sensitive information of images. Many children or young people do not understand that anything shared online or by mobile can end up publicly accessible, and that personal or sensitive content should never be shared online.
1. STAYING SAFE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Most recent studies suggest an increase in younger people opening social media accounts. On top of that, a quarter of 11-16 year olds have experienced something upsetting online.
The most popular social networks among 8-16 year olds in the UK are Snapchat and Instagram. Both platforms offer solutions to keep children safe:
Instagram’s minimum age for users is 13. They also offer an extensive guide for parents on keeping their children safe using the image-based social media networking.
Snapchat’s minimum user age is also 13. But the picture and video sharing app offers an alternative for users under the age of 13, called Snapkidz. Parents can read up on the different features here.
However, being of the minimum required age to join a social networking platform in no way guarantees a young user is developed enough able to keep safe without a parent keeping an eye on their activities.
2. STAYING SAFE WHILE PLAYING GAMES ONLINE
Chatting and communicating with other players
For online games which do not feature moderation systems, it’s important to be aware what is and is not possible. Depending on the sorts of games, players can typically communicate with each other by:
- sending messages which can be typed as part of the game
- chatting online while playing the game
- physically speaking using headsets/microphones
This can place your child at risk of cyber-bullying or contact from potentially dangerous strangers, so it’s important to educate your child of the dangers early on, and inform them of what to do if they feel uncomfortable or upset. It’s unlikely that games consoles will be able to offer the levels of moderation that can be offered by website based games so particular care should be taken with these platforms
More tips for staying safe while playing online
You can help keep your child stay safe whilst gaming online by following these tips:
- chat to them regularly about their gaming and ask who they are in contact with
- read reviews and parental guidance on games before deciding whether or not they are appropriate for your child
- check the game is appropriate by either playing it yourself or watching your child play
- encourage your child to use a ‘screen name’ which doesn’t give away any personal details
- advise them to never give out personal details such as their email address, phone number or location
- encourage them to tell you if there are any users they feel uncomfortable about – many games have inbuilt functionality to ‘block’ or ‘report’ other players
- report any threatening or suspicious behaviour to the game’s administrators or to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP)
Tips for keeping children safe online from getsafeonline.org: Visit Site
Google’s advice on ‘How you can protect your family online’:Visit Site
Know the Net from Nominet offers an overview of online child safety: Visit Site
Advice from the NSPCC, for parents about keeping children safe whilst online: Visit Site
Advice from NIDirect Government Services on keeping children safe online: Visit Site
SAFE Network offer guidance on keeping children and young people safe online: Visit Site
Childnet International educates parents, guardians and teachers so that they can keep children safe online: Visit Site
3. FREE TOOLS TO KEEP YOUR CHILDREN SAFE ONLINE
Google SafeSearch (free)
SafeSearch is designed to screen sites that contain sexually explicit content and remove them from your search results. While no filter is 100% accurate, SafeSearch helps you to avoid content that you may prefer not to see or would rather your children did not stumble across. Find out how to turn on Google SafeSearch –READ MORE.
Safety Lock on YouTube (free)
YouTube has Community Guidelines that describe the type of content that is and isn’t allowed on the site. However, there may be cases when you’d prefer to screen out content, even though it meets YouTube’s guidelines. Read more about using the safety lock on YouTube – READ MORE.
TalkTalk HomeSafe (free to TalkTalk customers)
HomeSafe protects your whole home online through every device connected to your TalkTalk broadband. Its three features are Kid Safe, Virus Alert and Homework Time (a tool to help prevent distractions at homework time!). Find out more about TalkTalk online safety – READ MORE.
McAfee Parental Controls for Sky (free to Sky customers)
This software helps you control when your child can be online and it lets you keep an eye on their online activities. It also lets you control what websites they can visit. It can be used on up to three Windows based PCs for free. Find out more about McAfee for Sky internet – READ MORE.
Norton Family (free basic version)
See your kids’ activities at a glance with an easy-to-read activity report. Norton state that “you’ll get to know your kids better and gain a deeper understanding of their online interests, so you can protect and guide them” – READ MORE.
BT Family Protection (free to BT broadband and dial-up customers)
This system allows parents to set up accounts which are not allowed to see certain content. Before a child can access the internet they have to enter their account log-in details, so they’re then free to surf the Internet without the danger of seeing inappropriate content – READ MORE.
Virgin Media Security (free to Virgin Media broadband customers)
Virgin Media’s free Parental Control software is a simple and effective way to stop your children watching unsuitable content online. Rather than being dedicated parental control software it is provided as part of the Broadband package. – READ MORE.