How to keep your children safe online
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Should you let children play video games rated above their age or have a social media account and how do you talk to a teenager about how much time they spend online without causing an argument? Sheena Grant goes in search of some advice for parents with the help of an expert speaking at an event in East Anglia.
We hear a lot about the dark side of the internet - cyberbullying, grooming, sexting and how social media can mess with a young person’s self esteem.
But that’s not the whole story. The online world can also be exciting, educational and positive, says Caroline Hurst, director of education at Childnet International, a non-profit organisation working to help make the internet a great and safe place for children.
And the way to do that, says Caroline, is not by stopping our children going online but educating them about how to embrace the positives in a responsible and safe way so they can be aware of the dangers and know what to do about them.
Caroline is one of two speakers at a parent talk this month (November) organised by East Anglian parenting support social business Huddl and aimed at advising parents how to help their children navigate the internet safely. Also speaking at the event will be Jonathan Taylor, a former Met police internet investigator who now advises on the dangers of online grooming. The talk is the third in a series this autumn organised by Huddl, which is run by Suffolk mother-of-three Katie Lawson.
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Here, Caroline explains more about what Childnet does and offers some top tips to parents.
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“We believe it is important that we educate children and young people to own the internet and make sure they are using it safely. We promote the positive aspects of the internet and how exciting it can be but making sure that we are safeguarding against the dangers children might face online.
“The advice that is appropriate depends on the age of the child. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach. For younger children we would start with the message that they need to tell someone if they see something that worries them, for instance, if a pop-up appears while they are online. From seven-plus we look at SMART rules (for example, ‘S’ is for safe, don’t give away personal information) and when making the transition into secondary we start educating about the idea of a digital footprint and encouraging positive online use.”
Too much too young
“The legal age to have a social media account is 13, although, of course, we know young people use it at a younger age. We would advise that if children are using social media underage to talk to them and make sure they are doing so safely, so they know not to meet up with strangers or give away personal information, for instance.
“We encourage children to wait until they are the correct age to register for these sites and to be truthful about their age. One reason for this is that there are more safety features applied to accounts of younger users, which will not apply if they have put in an incorrect age. We always remind those with an underage account to ask a parent or carer for help in understanding the privacy and reporting features available.
“When it comes to how long children spend online, role modelling is important and what they see the adults in their lives doing. It can be a good idea to make a family agreement that everyone sticks to about this and we’ve got resources on our website that can help.
“When it comes to deciding what social media sites are suitable for children to use I would encourage parents to research them carefully and have a look at a site’s ‘help’ section - if it isn’t easily visible then perhaps it is not the best idea to go on that particular site.”
“Childnet has an education team who go into schools and deliver online safety training sessions for three to 18-year-olds, parents, carers and staff. As part of that we also create lesson plans and leaflets and have a digital leaders programme with peer-to-peer training. We also have a lot of online resources.”
:: Huddl’s social media and internet safety talk takes place Trinity Park, Ipswich, at 7pm on November 13 and at Peter Hall Performing Arts Centre, Cambridge, on November 12. For tickets, which cost £17.50, and more information, visit www.huddl.uk. For more about Childnet go to childnet.com.
Some common questions answered
Should I let my child play a game that is rated above their age?
Childnet says: Just because everyone at your child’s school is talking about a game, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are playing it. In order to make a decision about the games you allow your child to play, it is important to research, discuss and explain why it may not be suitable, if that’s your decision.
How do I speak to my teenager about spending too much time on the internet?
Childnet says: broach the topic in a subtle, sympathetic way. Instead of saying ‘you’re spending far too much time online’ or ‘turn off your phone’, discuss things your teen likes to do both online and offline and together develop strategies for managing their time.