Stay safe on the internet

Child using a tabletToday (6 February) is international Safer Internet Day, so our content writer Caroline finds out what you can do to keep your young people safe online.

As a mum of two primary school kids who have a fairly-typical keen interest in technology, I usually have a niggling worry in the back of my mind that I should be doing more to make sure they’re safe on the internet. Which is why campaigns like Safer Internet Day are brilliant – they keep the topic in the public domain and remind busy parents to give it some thought.

The theme of Safer Internet Day 2018 is “Create, connect and share respect: A better internet starts with you”, which is basically encouraging every stakeholder to play their part in creating a better internet for everyone, in particular the youngest users out there. It’s an invitation for everyone to join in and engage with others in a respectful way to ensure a better digital experience.

The UK Safer Internet Centre (SIC) is responsible for the campaign in the UK and they have a wealth of resources to help parents and carers understand the kinds of digital risks that they should be aware of, and how to deal with them.

The SIC warns that there are four key topics to be aware of online:

  • Conduct – young people may not understand the impact of what they say and do online, for example sharing sensitive information – it leaves a digital footprint which is hard to erase.
  • Content – children can gain access content which is not appropriate for their age, or is unreliable and misleading.
  • Contact – probably the most well-known of internet dangers, this is when young people may experience bullying online or be approached by those seeking to groom them for future abuse.
  • Commercialism – it’s easy to spend money, sometimes unknowingly online, with in-app purchases, adverts and 1-click ordering

Being aware of the risks is a great start as you know what you’re dealing with, but how do you protect the young people in your care from those issues?

Talk about digital safety

Firstly, talk to your children and young people about the issue. They might know a fair bit about it already, because schools and colleges are often at the forefront of education about safer internet usage. My daughter’s school is even running a workshop for parents today, as an introduction to the topic because, for a lot of parents, the kids currently know more than we do!

Ask your children what they know about staying safe online, talk about what they like to do when online, and broach the tough subjects of grooming and identity theft. The old ‘stranger danger’ conversation is still relevant even in a digital context, but children just need to understand that even if you think you know who the person you’re talking to online is, they may not be the person they claim to be. And when you’re chatting about the importance of treating others with kindness and respect, it’s a good time to bring in that that means online as well as face to face.

Safety tools

Making use of the tools and controls out there is another good way to take control. Web browsers and on-demand TV have measures in place to limit children’s access to inappropriate content, such as PINs and filters for content aimed at older users. Social media sites all have privacy settings and reporting tools for concerns about bullying and grooming, and they’re straightforward to get to grips with – take a look here for more info.

Technology

Finally, get to know your kids’ favourite technology. Knowing how their tablet, smartphone or gaming device works means you’ll be able to understand how they use it and it will help you to protect them with safety tools and discussion about safe usage.

When you’re a busy parent, juggling lots of things, I can totally understand why sorting out your child’s internet safety sits on the to-do list un-tackled. But it doesn’t have to be a big task. Make sure it’s a topic your children are familiar with, mention it regularly, piggyback on any work their schools are already doing and check out the advice from the Safer Internet Centre for backup.  By making it a team effort, you and your young people can tackle the sometimes-daunting prospect of internet safety together, meaning you avoid the finger-wagging ‘do as I say’ approach and your child understands the importance of keeping themselves safe online.

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