Last week, the news emerged about a man who had sent an indecent image of him
self in a live chat to young person from a primary school in Leeds who had been using the app lively. While shocking, this is unlikely to be a unique event. According to Internet Matters, by the age of 8, many children will have begun using a smart phone, according to Internet Matters, with social media and instant messaging being the most popular use. What’s unique is that this story just made it to the press.
That these dangers are real and can have more far reaching consequences is evident from the Breck Bednar case who was murdered by a man who groomed him while playing on his Xbox. This year, supporters of Breck Foundation set up in his memory will be raising funds by pledging one day of Cyber Silence throughout a 10-day period, starting on Safer Internet Day. Being linked to the charity Basis Young People many young people do not get the information they need to understand what a healthy relationship. Without the right information they also are less likely to appreciate fully the risks of online contacts with what appear to be friends – it may be very exciting – all part of adolescence! Here’s 5 things we think you should NOT be doing to keep our young children safe online!
#1 DON’T DISPROPORTIONATELY RESTRICT ACCESS
The solution some say is to restrict access to any online activity. While I have my doubts about the feasibility of such restrictions nowadays, more importantly, by doing so young people are then also ostracized from any social networks and friends that they might engage with more positively as a support network. Indeed, the Breck Foundation also stresses the positive impact of the internet. Taking access away also sends the signal that a young person should be punished rather than being someone that needs help as we’ve had young people tell us. Dr. Emma Bond, associate professor at the University of Suffolk and author of Childhood , Mobile Technology and Everyday Experiences is quoted in a recent Sunday Time article as saying: “At the moment I’m doing workshops with young people in years5,6 and 7 and asking them “what do you wish someone had told you about the internet”? Many of the answers are the same: how to respond when someone says something nasty online. But many times they don’t tell anyone, because they think they will take their phone away, rather than give them the support they need”.
#2 DON’T STOP INFORMING YOUNG PEOPLE ABOUT THE RISKS
Having said that, restricting access at a younger age (younger primary age) is appropriate, even if not fully feasible, through enhanced privacy settings and restricting apps that are not able to provide such security as so many have private messaging functions. What’s more important however is that we talk to young people, find out what their concerns are, what their experiences online have been and give the information so they understand why privacy settings are so important. Most young people we talk to in our school’s workshops about online safety and the risks associated with it (including sexual exploitation) don’t recognise the risks or don’t know how to seek support or feel embarrassed or blame themselves.
#3 DON’T BLAME THE YOUNG PEOPLE
In our sessions about online safety for young people we always emphasize that whatever happens as a consequence, they are never at fault in the hope that will not be too ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help.
#4 DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK YOUNG PEOPLE INFORMATION ABOUT THE LATEST APPS
We need to talk more to parents about the dangers and understanding the need to think beyond the usual suspects of Facebook and SnapChat , new apps come on all the time and often parents often don’t fully appreciate the risks associated with them, feel overwhelmed or incapable of understanding the latest app. It doesn’t have to be an app – similar dangers exist with an Xbox. However, the best people to tell you about the latest app are the young people – another good reason to keep talking to them! There are also ample resources online to find out more about the apps and the risks associated such as the NSPCC and Internet Matters.
#5 DON’T FORGET THE INTERNET IS A FORCE FOR BAD AND GOOD
By focusing on the negative aspects or risks of the internet, young people might either become even more curious and or more anxious about the risks. Through all the bad news stories, its easy to for get about lots of positive ways to engage with the internet and the evidence shows that young people also recognise this with over 2.1 million young people engaging in a positive manner. Indeed, many children are able to access vital support online through the Childline online chat service. This Internet Safety Day, for their own wellbeing, lets make sure we keep talking to our children about the internet, the bad AND the good!