Parent talk at Trinity Park, Ipswich, to give parents information on how to keep children safe online
Keeping children safe online is one of the biggest challenges for modern parents. Sheena Grant finds out about an event this month designed to help them and talks to one of the speakers, Lorin LaFave, who set up a foundation to educate others after her son was murdered by an internet predator.
When Lorin LaFave raised concerns that her 14-year-old son, Breck, was being groomed by an online predator not much older than him no-one took her seriously.
“People thought I was some over-wrought American mum,” she says. “Boys like Breck who lived comfortably in Surrey didn’t fall victim to that kind of thing. He didn’t have bruises or anything to show he was being harmed so no-one I raised my concerns with believed me or did anything about it.”
But Lorin’s instincts had been right and tragically, in February 2014, Breck was murdered after being lured to the flat of his killer, who had befriended him through online gaming.
It’s a shocking story that strikes fear into the heart of every parent. But for Lorin, it is a reality from which she can never escape.
Soon after Breck’s death she set up the Breck Foundation in her son’s memory, to raise awareness of playing safe while using the internet.
Today, she spends her time making others aware of the simple rules that can keep them safe and to drive home the message that the friends made online are not like your real friends.
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“This is what gets me out of bed in the morning now,” she says. “The foundation exists to stop this happening to anyone else.”
On September 14 Lorin will be one of the speakers at a social media and internet safety event for parents being held in Ipswich by Huddl, a social enterprise founded by Suffolk mums Katie Lawson and Lucy Flack to offer “support for the parenting journey”.
Lorin’s message is simple.
“We tell people to play virtual, live real,” she says. “The key thing is to get everyone to believe there are dangers. Children enjoying themselves online struggle to believe there is a danger. But there is. Breck’s story shows that and that is why I share it with others. By knowing the dangers children can be more empowered to make safer choices. No-one can watch their children 24/7, especially when they become teenagers, so we need to teach them to recognise the dangers. Breck was confident, he had friends and a loving family. He and his friends did not see themselves as being at risk, but they were.
“One of the other key messages we give is to get everyone to look after each other. So many people knew Breck was in danger but didn’t know enough about it and where to go for support. We are trying to steer people to be proactive about it so they know they can contact organisations like Childline for help.
“I work in a school setting and went to dozens of people throughout the year of Breck being groomed but no-one really saw the risk. I made reports to police but no-one took me seriously. I don’t think people recognised that grooming can work on a child through manipulation and control - it doesn’t always involve sexting and messages of that nature. I always say to people to act on their concerns, even if they’re not sure. That doesn’t matter. The important thing is to act. You can’t leave it to someone else.”
In all the talks she has given Lorin says only one parent has ever stopped their child attending.
“I know the message is difficult to hear but we need to have a bit of fear,” says Lorin. “Not everyone is who they say they are. I would rather Breck recognised that there are people out there who want to do others harm than for him to have been someone who did not see the evil in the world.”
Lorin is also adamant that it’s not just children who need to know how to stay safe online - parents, carers, teachers and even grandparents need an awareness of the dangers too.
Advice will change, according to the age of a child but generally, she says, parents, carers and schools should follow age restrictions that apply to social media, games and apps. Children are meant to be at least 13 to use many social media sites, for instance, but often that age restriction is ignored.
“We need to set boundaries to protect children, to allow them to be children, to get enough sleep. Parents need to be stronger,” she says.
Huddl’s social media and internet safety event takes place at Trinity Park, Ipswich, on Thursday, September 14. Other speakers are Jonathan Taylor, who spent 10 years with the Metropolitan Police as the lead covert internet investigator in the UK and now advises law enforcement and academics on the dangers of online grooming and Emma Bond, associate professor at Suffolk University and author of Childhood Mobile Technologies and Everyday Experiences.
? A further two parent talks are planned for later this autumn - the changing teenage brain on October 10 and anxiety, grit and resilience on November 14.
Tickets cost £15 for each or £40 for all three. Huddl partner David Lloyd Clubs are offering a free family day pass, worth £60, at their Ipswich club to those who buy tickets to all three Huddl Parent Talks. The pass, which can be picked up at the first Huddl talk, entitles two adults and two children to enjoy all facilities and classes at the club for a day. Alternatively, tickets to all three parent talks can be bought for £30 by quoting HUDDLUP at checkout. Visit www.huddl.uk for tickets and more information.
How to stay safe online
Be aware: opening files, accepting emails, IM messages, pictures or texts from people you don’t know or trust can lead to problems - they may contain viruses or nasty messages
Report it: tell your parent or trusted adult if someone or something makes you feel uncomfortable or worried, or if you or someone you know is being bullied
Educate: someone online might lie about who they are and information on the internet may not be true. Always check information with other websites, books or someone who knows. If you like chatting online it’s best to only chat to your real friends and family
Communicate: meeting someone you have met online can be dangerous. Online friends are still strangers even if you have been talking to them for a long time. Never meet up alone and always speak to a parent or carer beforehand.
Keep Safe: be careful not to give personal information when you are chatting or posting online. This includes your email address, phone number, password, location.
For more information visit www.breckfoundation.org.