Internet and Online Safety
Children love using technology and are learning to navigate websites, online games and consoles, and touch screen technology like iPads and smartphones from a younger and younger age.
Recent Ofcom research has shown that 94% of 5-15 year olds live in a household with internet access and over a third of all 3-4 year olds are now accessing the internet in their homes.
However, there are risks because the internet is increasingly being used by adults who are not who they say they are and are posing as children.
Understanding and talking about the dangers can help you keep your child safe online.
Online grooming is the process by which an adult with an inappropriate sexual interest in children approaches a child online, with the intention of fostering a relationship with that child, so as to be able to meet them in person and intentionally cause harm.
Groomers are very skilled at what they do and can often befriend a child by appearing to have the same hobbies and interests as them.
Groomers use fake accounts and stock photos. They may also appear to be the same age as the child. Children can be flattered at first by the attention given to them by this new ‘online friend’ and if they engage, they are often asked to speak ‘more privately’ with the groomer, whether that be away from an online game, or a different social network.
Often children may not be aware that they are being groomed.
Children are also being groomed online into sending sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves to these online groomers. In some cases, groomers threaten to make the material public unless children send more material of themselves.
Cyberbullying includes things such as sending nasty text messages, excluding others from messaging apps, ‘hacking’ into someone else’s social media account, pretending to be them, ‘tagging’ people into statuses or embarrassing photos about them. ‘Indirect’ cyberbullying is bullying where a name isn’t mentioned, however it is obvious to all involved who is being talked about eg. ‘You know whose dress is disgusting’.
Being a victim of cyberbullying can be very distressing for a young person as messages can be sent anonymously and it is difficult to know who the bully is. Moreover, the bullying doesn’t always end once the victim has left wherever the bully might be (eg. school) as it can continue 24/7. When messages and embarrassing photos are shared online and not directly to the person, there are often lots of bystanders and victims can be very upset to see how quickly an embarrassing image or rumour can circulate online.
Top tips to help with cyberbullying
Social Networking Sites
Young people use social networking sites for many different purposes; to communicate with their friends, to share content and to find out new information. You need to remind your child that they need to be careful about what they’re posting online.
Children can sometimes believe that social networking sites are a private space for them and it can be difficult for them to realise that what they’re posting online may be publicly visible and can be spread very quickly to a large audience.
The blur between public and private expression can potentially put a child at risk.
Content which is uploaded online can be copied, altered and reposted by anyone and it is very difficult to ‘take back’ what may be later regretted. Children who create or post inappropriate, offensive or even illegal content on their own or others’ web pages could get them into trouble with their school, friends and even the police, depending on the nature of the material.
Children also need to be aware of how much personal information they upload onto these sites. If a user of a social networking site doesn’t protect their information by enabling the correct privacy settings they might be are sharing their information with strangers, some of whom may have malicious intentions.
Posting or chatting about personal details might enable someone to identify and contact your child online or in person. Those who share their information publicly can be exposed to more strangers online and can sometimes receive online hate and cyberbullying from people they don’t know
The term ‘sexting’ describes the use of technology to share intimate images of yourself. It’s a word-mix of sex and texting. The content can vary, from text messages to images of partial nudity to sexual images or video.
This content is usually created to be sent to a partner, but can be between groups and can use a range of mobile devices, technologies and online spaces. Photos and videos are often created via webcam or Smartphone camera, and are shared on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr and Snapchat, messaging services such as IM or BBM, and video sites such as YouTube.
If a young person under the age of 18 engages in sexting by creating an explicit photo or video of themselves, they could be held responsible for creating an image of child abuse. Sending this content on to another person is the distribution of an image of child abuse. By receiving content of this kind from another young person, they could be held responsible for possessing an image of child abuse.
The Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland have stated that young people engaging in sexting should be treated as victims in the first instance and not face prosecution as first time offenders, but the situation will be investigated to ensure the young people involved are not at risk. The police’s priority is those who profit from sexual images. Repeat offenders and more extreme cases are reviewed differently, still with a focus on avoiding prosecution unless absolutely necessary.
If someone is pressurising your child to send them a sexting image, inform the police. Not only is it illegal, but it may prevent them from doing it to someone else too.
Top tips for parents
Internet safety advice is directly applicable to the gaming environment because of the risks that are present. It is essential that children are aware of these issues and are given the skills and knowledge to help manage and reduce these risks, with the help of those around them.
Just like offline games, these games and apps can have educational benefits, and be used, for example, to develop problem-solving and team working skills and understanding.
Many of these games are free to play/download and include Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters.
Children have told researches that their top concerns when playing Minecraft are:
They may also come across inappropriate content like violent or sexual language and images.
To help keep children safe on games such as Minecraft, make sure:
Young people encounter sexual images both online and offline. This can influence how they think about sex, relationships and their own body image – and it can make children feel confused, embarrassed, disgusted or worried.
It’s important that you recognise and talk to your child about the sexualised content they have come across to help them interpret and critique this information and to help them develop healthy and positive attitudes towards sex, relationships and their own body.
Parental control tools and filters can help to reduce the chances of stumbling across pornography online, but it’s important that you give young people the most important filter – inside their head – to help them understand the world they live in.
Parental controls are designed to help protect children from inappropriate content they may come across online, such as pornography. These controls can be used to limit access to only age-appropriate content, to set usage times and to monitor activity.
There are four main places you can find parental controls, and it can help to set up a combination of these:
It’s worth being aware that no parental controls or filtering options are 100% effective. As children grow up, they can become quite tech-savvy and they may learn how to disable the parental controls already put in place. Be aware also that once parental controls by your internet provider are set up on your WiFi, if your child access 3G or 4G at home, the parental controls can be bypassed.
Similarly, if your child goes to their friend’s house where there are no parental controls in place, they will be able to access whatever they want. For these reasons, it’s important to educate your child about the potential risks online, and establish rules concerning the sites that are suitable, or inappropriate, to visit.