Advice for parents on how to keep their children safe online

It is now virtually impossible to be a parent of a child who is not an active participant in the online world.  Yet, this prospect can be an incredibly daunting one for many parents.  Parents are aware of the wonderful learning benefits of engaging children in an online world (online research and educational games to name but two), however, they are also increasingly aware of some of the more dangerous content and sites on the Internet that can be upsetting for their child.  This page intends to give some advice on how to manage this challenging situation as well as provide you with plenty of links to where you can get further advice.



Be aware of how your child engages with the online world.  

 

Many parents have Internet service providers (ISPs) who offer free parental controls for their computers and many other parents pay extra for these parental controls.  However, increasingly, children are not using the traditional ‘home computer’ to access the Internet but are able to engage with the online world through a whole host of other means, including tablets, Smart TVs, games consoles and, most commonly of all, their mobile phone.  Many of these may be covered by the same parental controls at home on the Wi-Fi  (if the adult sets them up on the Wi-Fi for their child).  However, many of these devices also have mobile Internet access, which means that, as soon as they are taken away from the home Wi-Fi, they might have access to a much broader range of inappropriate material that they would at home.  Being aware of how your child accesses the Internet is directly correlated to your ability to keep them safe on it.  Make sure you are aware of their online habits and provide them with the tools to keep themselves safe.  Many tablet and mobile phone devices contain parental control options and (if set up by a parent prior to give the device to the child) these may provide some further protection in the online world.  However, whether this is always the solution to the problem is discussed below.

 

Is blocking or filtering always the answer?  

 

Whilst there is a lot to be said for blocking and filtering content (and we at The Discovery School have Kent’s filtering system in place), there is an argument that this is not always the answer (or perhaps more correctly put, not the only answer).  Unfortunately, no filtering system is 100% safe, accurate or up-to-date.  This means that a simple keyword search or image can return content that is potentially harmful or distressing for your child.  Whilst filtering does protect your child from a lot of content, it does not teach them what to do if they stumble across something inappropriate online (please see Make sure your child knows what to do if they do come across inappropriate content or something that makes them feel uncomfortable below).  Therefore, it is not always the best solution.  Teaching your child what to do when they come across inappropriate content is arguable more important than protecting them from seeing it.  Unfortunately, as we all know, it is so easy to stumble across inappropriate content online and, therefore, children need to know what to do if they find something upsetting.  Having this kind of conversation, can give them the skills that they will need to protect themselves for the rest of their lives – long after them have left the ‘safe’ filtered world of your home.

Also, as discussed earlier, filtering only works on certain devices or Wi-Fi if it is set up to do so.  Another issue with this is the fact that we, as adults, tend to choose the same passwords and passcodes for multiple devices.  Our passwords often also tend to be based on key dates to do with our children or even include their names.  Many children know their parent’s passwords and passcodes and, therefore, this can make it incredibly easy for them to ‘hack’ their way through the filtering system.  It is vital, therefore, that if you choose to filter content that the password or passcode to access this content is completely unrelated to any that your child might easily be able to guess or have access to.

 

Talk to your child about their online habits. 

 

One of the main causes of distress for children online is the fear that if they find something inappropriate or do something wrong online that their access to the Internet will be taken away.  As discussed above, this most commonly means their tablet or mobile phone will be removed from them and anyone who has children, or works with them, will know that, in the modern world, this is one of the things they fear the most.  This fear leads them to not speak to an adult about the inappropriate things that they have found because of the fear of the device being removed.  However, if you spend time discussing what they are doing online and the kinds of websites and games they are engaging in, your child will be much more open to discussing the things that have been going well as well as anything that has gone wrong, as they don’t have such a fear of their prized possession being taken away from them.

 

Be aware if your child is engaging in social networking and decide what is appropriate for your child.  

 

There are a huge number of misconceptions surrounding social networks and the laws that govern them.  Parents will often mention that it is illegal for children to be on Facebook under the age of thirteen, yet happily allow their children to use YouTube from a much younger age.  In fact, the same law governs YouTube as governs Facebook.  This means that to sign up for a YouTube account children have to be thirteen, just the same as Facebook.  This is not due to a safety issue with either site but is in fact due to US laws that govern advertising to children under this age.  This means that it is illegal for Facebook or Youtube to knowingly allow users under this age to use their website.  It does not mean that children under this age are breaking the law by signing up to these websites, it means that the websites are breaking the law by hosting them.  As such, if an underage account is reported to these websites, it is almost guaranteed to be shut down within twenty-four hours.  To a parent who discovers that their child is social networking this can seem like a very definitive solution.  However, there is absolutely nothing to stop that same child re-signing up for another account, lying about their age and keeping it hidden from you.  This also means that they will not come to you to talk about any issues they have on the social network as, when you were aware of it previously, you took it away from them.  There is no easy solution to this problem.  However, again, it comes back to parents being open and honest with their children about the pros and cons of social networking and, most importantly of all, ensuring that children know how to keep themselves safe on social networks – if they are eventually allowed to join them.  If your child is engaging with social networking (and there are some social networks which allow access for children of any age), make sure you and they know how the social network works.

  • Teach them how to lock their privacy settings down so that only their friends can see what they post.
  • Talk to them about what is appropriate and what is inappropriate to post online, both in terms of text and photos.
  • Make sure they know how to report something, if they see anything inappropriate (virtually all social networks will have somewhere you can report inappropriate content to – it is just not always easy to find! Check the menus and links at the top   and bottom of the websites).
  • Talk to them about ensuring that their only friends on social networks are friends they have in the real world as, unfortunately, not everyone is who they say they are online.

Social networking can be a challenging but rewarding place for both children and adults but make sure that children know exactly how to keep themselves safe when using them.  The time taken to do this when they first start engaging with social networks and skills taught will last a lifetime.

 

Make sure your child knows what to do if they do come across inappropriate content or something that makes them feel uncomfortable.  

 

 

Lots of parents talk to their children about their fire escape plan or provide a place to meet when in a crowded area.  This is done so that the children know what to do if the worst happens.  However, do you always take the time to do this in the online world?  Some adults find the Internet a scary place, so imagine what it is like for a child.  Take the time to talk to your child about what to do if someone asks them to do something they are not comfortable with, they stumble across inappropriate content or a link comes up that they are unsure whether to click.   In The Discovery School, we have a rule of, if you see something inappropriate or that bothers you, close the screen (don’t close the window or shut down the device) and tell a trusted adult straight away.  We would then deal with this by talking about how the children accessed the content (not a frequent occurrence because of the strict filtering in Kent schools) and go through the steps that they took that led them to inappropriate content.  We would then talk about the content itself.  This way the children learn about the kinds of key word searches that may return inappropriate content as well as the reason why some of that content is online.  This could be an excellent ‘Internet Survival Plan’ for your house too.  The important thing about adopting a plan such as this is to ensure that the child is praised for bringing the inappropriate content to you and not scalded for typing in the wrong thing.  If the child is scalded and the device removed from them, they may not talk to you if they find inappropriate content or something makes them feel uncomfortable again and next time it could be something even more serious.

 

Ceops – arguably the most important website on the Internet. 

Many people have seen the CEOPs logo on websites (most people think it is an eye on legs, it is in fact a person with their hands on their head).  However, fewer people know what it actually is or what they actually do.  To quote the CEOPs website,

 “This is a place where you can report any inappropriate or potentially illegal activity with or towards a child online. This might be a conversation with someone online who you think may be an adult, and is treating a child in a way which makes you feel uncomfortable, or you think may be trying to meet them for sex.”

Who they are,

“The Government has set up the CEOP Centre to take these reports and make sure that young people are safe online. This Centre is staffed by specialist police officers and investigators. Your report will go to straight to them, however if the report is deemed to require immediate action outside of the Centre's operating hours the information will automatically be passed to one of our Virtual Global Taskforce members, all of whom are law enforcement, who will look at it and decide if it requires immediate action and send an alert back to the UK if required.”

Teaching children that it is important to report inappropriate or illegal activity is just as important as trying to protect them from it.  This helps children to understand that it important to protect other people from the dangers they can face on the Internet too.  Following on from the method of closing the screen and telling a trusted discussed earlier, the next step would be to discuss with the child whether you think it is serious enough to report to CEOPs and, if so, fill in the report together, so that they are aware of how to help prevent future problems for other people.

 

Age appropriate content and gaming. 

 

Online gaming (including on games consoles, such as Xbox, Playstation and Wii) is another area that can be fraught with difficult choices for parents and carers.  Many parents buy games for their children and allow them to use their online account to play games with people all over the world.  However, are they always aware of the world they are allowing them access to?

Playing games online can be a fun and rewarding experience for children.  However, they are often able to talk to complete strangers from around the world and have written or oral conversations with them.  This can be incredibly exciting for a child.  However, are they aware that these strangers aren’t their friends in real life and could lie about their age or identity?  Do they know to ignore or report any inappropriate or threatening language that they hear whilst playing the game?  Are they resilience enough to cope if someone online destroys their game or online world?  These are all questions worth considering when allowing children access to these multi-user online gaming platforms.  It is important to ensure that children are prepared for the kind of things that can happen during these games and that they feel comfortable enough to talk to you about when they see or hear something that makes them feel uncomfortable.   Remember, if they feel that you will take away their access to a game or console if they tell you when something goes wrong, they are less likely to tell you again in the future.  Make sure that they have the strategies in place to deal with any issues that may arise in the games.

One of the biggest issues arising from online gaming, particularly on games consoles, relates to the appropriateness of the content that parents allow their children access to.  Parents can sometimes buy games and be unaware that they contain graphic scenes of violence or even sexual content.  Most parents would not allow their children to watch a film that is rated far above their current age, but don’t seem to mind purchasing a game that is rated as such.  Often, these games can contain content that is just as graphic and disturbing as movies of the same rating.  What is more, they portray such images in a fun and entertaining way so that children become desensitised to such images.  It is really important that parents become aware of the PEGI rating for games that can be seen on the back of the disk’s packet.  These ratings give you a good idea of both the age limit for the game as well as an idea of the content of the game.  By using this information, parents can they make an informed decision about the appropriateness of the game for their child.  Another tip is to ensure that you either play the game with your child or spend some time watching them play the game.  This allows you to see more clearly how a child is interacting with the game and whether you are happy with the kind of images it is allowing them access to.

This is not to say that online gaming is a world that you should not allow your children to access.  However, it is important to be fully aware of what your child is playing/doing online and ensure that they have the skills and resilience to deal with any challenging situations they may face whilst doing so.

 

As children approach their teenage years, be aware of the ‘behind the bike shed’ factor.  

 

For many parents, this may not be something that they are concerned about currently or that they feel will not be an issue for their child.  However, children sharing graphic images of themselves with a boyfriend, girlfriend or close friend is becoming much more prevalent and at a much younger age.  In the past, people did not have the means of sharing images of themselves in what feels like a private fashion.  They may have instead done this ‘behind the bike shed’.  However, with modern technology children feel that they can share graphic images of themselves with someone they trust and that this will be ok.  However, these images can quickly be circulated amongst other people through the forwarding of e-mails or text.  Therefore, what felt like a private image to ‘their one true love that they are going to be spending the rest of their life with’ can quickly become the image on an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend’s phone.  Unfortunately, this image can just as quickly be shared, via text or social media, and become something that can be used either intentionally or inadvertently to hurt the feelings of the person involved.  It is really important as adults, therefore, that we teach children the danger of sending such images to other people and how situations like these can quickly spiral out of control.  Unfortunately, what would have once stayed behind the bike shed can quickly escalate into something that is clearly in the public domain.

 

We hope that you have found this guide useful.  If you would like to know more about this important topic and get further advice, below is a list of websites that can provide this for you.

 

We hope that you have found this guide useful.  If you would like to know more about this important topic and get further advice, below is a list of websites that can provide this for you.


If you are interested in how to keep yourself safe online, click here for more information.


CEOPs – the place to get advice on and report an inappropriate or potentially illegal content or action that you see online. 

http://ceop.police.uk


ThinkUKnow – an excellent website that has all sorts of advice for parents and carers as well as sections for children who want to learn about E-safety for themselves - an excellent resource to look at as a family.

https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/parents/


UK Safer Internet Centre – this website contain a wealth of resources and content about how to keep children safe online.  They are also the group behind the Safer Internet Day initiative that is celebrated on a yearly basis.

http://www.saferinternet.org.uk/advice-and-resources/parents-and-carers


Know It All for Parents – is a unique interactive E-safety guide put together by Childnet International.

http://www.childnet.com/resources/know-it-all-for-parents


NSPCC – advice on the appropriateness of online content from the NSPCC.

http://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/online-safety/


Kidsmart – a fantastic online resource with excellent E-safety tips.  There is also a fantastic children’s section for your children to explore.

http://www.kidsmart.org.uk/parents/


Digizen – a fantastic resource that includes all sorts of advice on how we, as adults, can encourage children to become responsible digital citizen and discerning when viewing digital content.

http://www.digizen.org


Childnet.com – advice on how to support children who are using social networking sites.

http://www.childnet.com/resources/young-people-and-social-networking-sites


Pegi – information on the games rating system and what the codes on the back of games tell you about their content.

http://www.pegi.info/en/index/id/33/


 

Google – information from Google on how to keep your family safe online.

 

http://www.google.co.uk/safetycenter/families/start/