Almost every family household these days will have had the dreaded conversation about kids being online too much. Parents worry as they don’t know what their kids are up to, kids get annoyed because their parents ‘don’t understand’… it’s a common situation that can end up in a lock of horns between both parties.
It’s your responsibility as a parent to know what your child is up to both on and offline. You should be aware of what sites, apps and games your children are accessing and have an active role in monitoring their activity as well as time spent online. (See the Byron Review, 2008).
This is easier said than done as parents are not always with their children, children vary in their own levels of maturity, age and sense of responsibility so there is no set guideline of how and what to do with regards to keeping your child safe online. However, parents can take a positive approach without having to be ridiculously knowledgeable or well-informed about anything online related – it can be a minefield and it’s a common response for parents to shy away as they ‘don’t understand’ or it’s ‘far too complicated’. This attitude won’t safeguard a child from being a victim of online bullying, exploitation, radicalisation or online grooming. All scary concepts but all real threats and no child is immune.
Rather than use ignorance as a defence, we are urging parents to take a technological step and be proactive in accepting the fact that online is the new (ish) thing. Things may not be the same as they used to, children may not talk to each other face to face as often and games are played online. However, this does not mean that communication has broken down and the end of the world is upon us. It simply means, children are still children, they just have different tools available to them which they choose to embrace. The role of the parent should be to understand and provide guidance and support not to dismiss change on the grounds that ‘it’s not how we did things’.
Technology can be a wonderful thing, it can also be a very dark and dangerous tool. Children tend to live ‘in the now’ often not thinking or considering the consequences of their actions. They have often created a comprehensive digital footprint before the age of ten without even realising. This is natural and part of their development in the same way as teenagers can perceive sexting or sending/sharing intimate photos of themselves to be considered as simply pushing boundaries with no other motive than to be explorative and curious about sex.
So, as a parent, when should you be worried and when should you intervene?
There is a wealth of comprehensive information online which we have included links to at the bottom if you are a worried parent. However, as a general rule – trust your instincts. Your child is your child and chances are, no one knows them better than you. If you’re worried then talk to them. If you are concerned that they are at risk then talk to them. Be understanding and listen. Don’t dismiss what they say or what they are doing.
Take the opportunity to explain to them how their digital footprint can affect the rest of their life. Once content is posted, it’s almost impossible to remove it. Use the ‘Billboard Test’:
- Who is likely to see what they post? (friends, family, parents, employers, teachers…)
- What personal info is being shared? (personal details, address, confidential info…)
- What impression does it portray of them? (could it offend or upset anyone, could it make someone think badly or negatively of them…)
If you or your child is uncomfortable with any of the answers then it’s probably best to not post.
The Protection of Children Act, 1978 makes it illegal in England for anyone (including a child) to create, possess or share an indecent image of a child under 18. A child can be confident and trusting which are both great qualities to possess. However, again make sure they are fully aware of consequences regardless of their possibly naïve opinion. Once an image is out there it will always be there.
The CEOP film – ‘Exposed’ highlights the dangers and potential consequences of sexting or sharing revealing images with friends.
If a child has received images or messages that have made them feel uncomfortable, the Zipit App from Childline is a brilliant tool to help them take control of the situation and reply to any unwanted chat using various Gif files to respond. It is available for Android and Apple and is free to download.
Finally, if at any time, you or a child feels seriously vulnerable, exposed, concerned or worried about online abuse of any description, the CEOP website has an embedded REPORT button on their site and a host of information regarding how, when and why to make a report and it is all safe, secure and confidential. https://www.ceop.police.uk/safety-centre/
Child Exploitation and Online Protection: https://www.ceop.police.uk/safety-centre/
Guidance to definition of ‘indecent images’:
Taking care of your Digital Footprint: