The issue of kids and technology can be worrying for parents, especially if they don’t understand exactly what their children are doing online. While mums and dads may be aware of possible dangers regarding internet use, knowing what to do about it is another matter.
Earlier this month I was invited to CIS – the Child Internet Safety Summit – held at Westminster as a guest of AVG to learn more about the challenges our children face online and what we as parents need to know to help protect them.
It’s a fact of life that our kids will grow up with technology and have to learn how to handle it. In practical terms, this can mean watching the amount they download and steering clear of illegally streaming movies or music. Emotionally, it can mean the importance of being kind – not saying anything online that they wouldn’t say to someone’s face and having the maturity to understand what is over-sharing, as well as standing up to online peer pressure.
These are all tricky enough subjects for adults to navigate so it can be difficult to know what to tell our kids. But we have to educate ourselves so we can help them – these days there is little to separate children’s online and offline lives. They are on social networks such as Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook and will undoubtedly learn about the next ‘new thing’ online before we do. They are tech savvy and know how to use hardware and software, but they don’t yet have the experience, maturity and confidence to know what is and is not acceptable behaviour online and how to extricate themselves from a potentially sticky situation.
CIS’s aim is to help children and parents, alongside care-givers and those who work with children, to understand all aspects of safe internet useage and learn ways to avoid possible harm and also how to report it if it happens. It’s not about scaremongering or frightening children – the internet is and can be a very positive and happy place, but with all the good comes the bad and it’s about education and awareness. The more we are aware, we can take steps to help keep our children from seeing things like pornographic images or hate content, and thus protect their view of the world for as long as possible.
As a blogger I’m online myself most of the time, using social platforms to promote my brand and search engines to research stories. In a recent meeting, the businessperson I was having coffee with exclaimed how my kids must think I’m ‘so cool’ – having all these accounts like Instagram and Twitter, just like them. It made me laugh – my kids think I’m the furthest thing from cool, but even if they don’t appreciate their mum having a following of thousands on Twitter, I do have an acute awareness of things I need to be aware of when it comes to my kids. Despite this, I learned some things at the CIS conference that I was totally uninformed about, further proving that all parents need to take steps to educate themselves about what goes on in our children’s online lives, no matter how savvy we believe we are.
AVG Technologies released new research at the event revealing the extent of children’s exposure to inappropriate content online and the conflicting views and concerns of their parents. Headline findings of the research of 2,200 UK parents include the fact that more than a third (35 per cent) of UK children have encountered dangers online while at home but despite this a quarter of parents have no plans to educate their children about online risks. When asked why, 44 per cent of parents said they believe their child is sensible enough to know what to avoid online, 22 per cent think it would be too awkward to discuss and 14 per cent just don’t think it’s necessary. This is a worrying underestimation by parents of online dangers, and burying heads in the sand won’t protect our kids.
The Child Internet Safety website has resources to teach parents and children about digital security and all aspects of safety online, and it also has an e-zine that is free to download. Visiting the site with your children is a good way to open up the conversation about how they use the internet and they also have tips and advice for parents split into age ranges to make it easier for us to know what advice is relevant at what time.
To help you get started with child internet safety, here are some E-safety tips for your children they can do in minutes to protect themselves online:
- When creating your screen name for online chat rooms, don’t include any personal information like your date of birth or last name.
- Don’t share your password with anyone except your parents. If you use a public computer in your school or college library or similar place, make sure you log out of your account.
- Don’t post pictures or videos online without getting your parents’ permission. Before you post anything online, stop and think whether it’s something your family will be happy to see.
- Never agree to meet online friends unless you have your parents’ permission. Stranger danger is a rule you need to live by online as well as offline.
- Some online adverts trick you into thinking you are getting something free or at rock bottom prices; if the deal looks too good to be true, it’s best to stay clear. Regarding apps, purchases can result in huge bills, be mindful of what you are buying to enhance your apps.
- Don’t open any downloads from people you don’t know or weren’t expecting anything from. The most common method of planting a virus on your PC or connected device is via email attachment or via a tab on social network saying ‘OMG you won’t believe what she did’.
- Don’t be mean or insult other people online. Tell an adult if you receive something horrible online and if you are aware of a friend being bullied online then make sure you speak out and tell your parents or teacher.
- Make sure you understand the minimum age requirement to join your chosen social network. Facebook and Twitter have a minimum user age of 13 for a reason!
Words and Images by Nadine Hill