In the last 10 years, the internet seems to have taken over and we now wonder how we ever lived without it. For our children, living in a world dominated by the internet is all they have ever known. In fact, many children are more tech and internet savvy than their parents. However, with the growth of the internet, we have also seen a huge growth in online abuse, cyberbullying and online grooming.
Many children have access to multiple devices that can access the internet. Whether that’s a games console, tablet, phone or even the family computer. Quite often, children will use these devices unsupervised. Luckily, parents are becoming increasingly aware of the potential risks of children using the internet. So how do we ensure children are safe online?
Today, we are going to take a look at all of the possible risks and how parents can reduce or eliminate these risks. We will also look at how to educate your child about internet safety and how to report any concerns you may have.
The Risks of the Internet
There are many different risks associated with using the internet. From a young age, parents educate their children on important issues, such as not talking to strangers, road safety and bullying. However, it is equally important to educate your little ones about the potential risks of using the internet and how they can stay safe online.
The various risks and potential dangers your child may encounter online include:
- Cyberbullying – According to gov.uk, in 2020, 20% of children aged 10-15 experienced bullying online. Even more worryingly, a quarter of these children said that they did not report this bullying to anyone. These are worrying statistics for parents who may have previously felt that home was a safe place for their child. Children can experience cyberbullying from someone they know or even a stranger.
- Grooming – Online grooming is when a child or young person is tricked, coerced or forced into doing something sexual online. This can include sending sexual photographs or videos, engaging in inappropriate conversation, or engaging in sexual behaviour on video chat. It can be difficult for a child to spot the signs of grooming as the groomer will usually build their trust over a period of time and develop some sort of relationship with them first. An online groomer may also try to encourage the child to share personal information, such as their home address or school, or even meet up with them in person.
- Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) – Online sexual exploitation can include grooming, obtaining or sharing sexual images and videos of children and coercing or blackmailing children for sexual reasons. Dangerous individuals may contact children on social media, apps or via video games and hide or lie about their identity.
- Exposure to inappropriate material – Unfortunately, there is a lot of inappropriate online content that is sexual or violent in nature. Furthermore, children may be exposed to material that is racist, sexist, discriminatory or hateful.
- Scams – Many online scammers target children on gaming sites. They may offer free access to games, free prizes or access to other special features. In exchange, all your child will need to do is enter your credit card information. Many parents do not educate their children about avoiding scams as it is not something we think is relevant to them. Unfortunately, the prevalence of scammers targeting children has grown exponentially.
- Phishing – Phishing is when a message or email contains a link or attachment that is malicious. As children are generally more naïve than adults, they may be more likely to click on these links without considering the consequences. Cybercriminals often target sites that are popular with children. If your child clicks on a malicious link, there are several potential consequences, including someone gaining access to your devices or being able to access your personal information and photographs.
How to Keep Your Child Safe Online
As you have seen, there are many potential risks and dangers online. If you haven’t already introduced some ways to keep your child safe online, here is a list of different things you can do.
1. Talk openly with your child – Having an open and honest conversation with your child about the potential dangers of the internet can make a real difference. Talk to them about viewing appropriate material and explain that if they are unsure, they can always check with you or another adult. Also, discuss the dangers of speaking to strangers online and explain how they should only communicate with someone they know and trust. You should also speak to your child about cyberbullying and explain that saying rude, hurtful or threatening things online is just as serious as bullying in the playground. Most importantly, ensure that your child knows they can always come to you if they have any questions or concerns about something they have seen online or if something is worrying them.
2. Set some rules – Set rules that both you and your child are aware of and that everyone in your household knows must be followed. Your child then knows exactly what is expected of them. You could also explain why each rule is important. If there are particular apps or games that your child loves, you could also research these together and look at how to stay safe when using this app. Rules and expectations will differ depending on the age of your child, but they could include set hours in which they are allowed to be online, certain apps or websites that they can only use if you are present, or allowing you or another adult access to their social media.
3. Share passwords – Allowing your child to access apps, websites and social media without you present can be scary for parents. Asking your child to share their passwords with you may make them more accountable for their online behaviour, as they know you could check at any time. Having your child’s passwords will also allow you to check their online activity if they are exhibiting worrying behaviour.
4. Become social media friends – By adding your child on social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, you can keep an eye on their posts, and you may also be able to see if they are a victim of cyberbullying.
5. Keeping internet devices in family areas – This option is most appropriate for younger children. By preventing online devices from being used in their bedroom, you are able to see your child’s online activity and make sure they are not being exposed to any risks.
6. Teach your child about reporting abuse – If they are aware of how easy it is to report abuse, your child may be more likely to do this. Explain that all reports will be anonymous, and the website or app will never reveal who has reported the perpetrator. This may give your child peace of mind and make them less likely to worry about the consequences of reporting abusive behaviour.
7. Stay alert – One of the most important things a parent can do is stay alert. Look for changes in your child’s behaviour that may indicate that they are being bullied or exploited online. Things to look out for may include being secretive online or with their devices and passwords, or becoming withdrawn and exhibiting changes in their emotional behaviour, such as becoming anxious, angry or upset.
Sometimes, educating your child and starting an open and honest conversation is simply not enough to keep them safe online. Children can easily access inappropriate content accidentally or because of peer pressure. There are certain resources that parents can use to help them keep their child protected on the internet.
- Parental Filters – Enabling parental filters will result in inappropriate content or websites being automatically blocked. Quite often, children access inappropriate content accidentally. Parental filters will ensure that this cannot happen. Parental filters can be set up on your home Wi-Fi, on your mobile network provider and on each individual device. If you are unsure of how to set up parental filters, this helpful guide offers step-by-step instructions to help you out.
- Safety Mode – Many parents are not aware that websites such as YouTube and BBC iPlayer have a safety mode that blocks any mature content. Often, this content may not be blocked by parental filters, so safety mode offers another barrier.
- Antivirus Protection – Antivirus protection keeps your devices protected from viruses and malware. If your child clicks on a malicious link or attachment, the antivirus software should automatically block the link. The software will also screen emails and messages for these links.
- Video Lessons – For children younger than 10 years old, the Smart with a Heart video lessons are a fun way to help educate your child about staying safe online. Watch the videos together, discuss them and do the fun quiz at the end. To access the videos, visit Child Net.
Reporting Online Abuse
abuse. This abuse could take many different forms, such as cyberbullying, emotional abuse, sexual exploitation or sexual abuse.
Unfortunately, the same abuse can be repeated multiple times if the abusive content is recorded, saved, uploaded and shared with others. Abusers or bullies find it much easier to abuse a child online for several reasons, including being able to access children more easily through social media and gaming sites, the anonymity of the internet and the fact that children are more trusting online.
Ensure your child always knows they can come to you if they are being abused online. However, it is also important to educate children on how they can report abuse themselves.
Making your children aware of the following safety features can make a real difference:
- Facebook – Anything that goes against Facebook’s Community Standards will be reviewed and removed. This can even include private messages. Facebook may even choose to remove the profile of the perpetrator and ban them from using the site. To report any abuse, your child just needs to click the ‘Report’ link.
- Instagram – Similarly to Facebook, anything that goes against Instagram’s Community Guidelines should be reported. The guide explains how to report abuse on different phone operating systems and computers.
- Snapchat – If your child experiences bullying, harassment, abuse, or has any other safety concerns while using Snapchat, they can report content, a message, a story or an account.
- Twitter – If you encounter abusive behaviour on Twitter, whether that is a Tweet, a private message or an abusive account, Twitter encourages you to report it. You will be asked to select a reason that you are reporting the account and one of the options is, ‘They’re being abusive or harmful’.
- Tumblr – Tumblr encourages its users to report any violation of their user agreement. This includes harm to minors, hate speech violation, violent content or threats, and impersonation or non-genuine behaviour. Consult their website for more information about reporting abuse.
- TikTok – TikTok is one of the most popular applications with children and young people. You can report a video, comment, direct message, a user, a sound or a hashtag. Although TikTok is intended for users aged over 13, many younger children also access this app, so parents should be aware that not all content will be age-appropriate.
- Xbox – Children may experience abuse from other players, especially if they are playing on Xbox live or using their headset to communicate with other players.
- PlayStation – Similarly to Xbox, PlayStation users can report any inappropriate behaviour or abuse. The way in which you will need to report will vary depending on which PlayStation console your child is using.
If a parent or another adult is concerned about online abuse, there are several ways they can report the abuse or seek help or advice.
- Contact the police – If you think that your child is in immediate danger, you should contact 999.
- Contact your local child protection service – If you believe your child is being groomed or sexually exploited online, child protective services will have specialised staff that can offer help and advice to you and your child.
- Contact the NSPCC – The NSPCC has trained professionals that can offer expert advice. Visit their website or call them on 0808 800 5000.