A poll conducted recently by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre showed that around 80% of children ages 5-15 in the UK are regularly online every day. With the myriad of technological gadgets available, as well as software to go with them, there are more ways for children to access the internet and more things for them to do once they get there. “Most research says children shouldn’t have more than two hours of screen time per day,” explains mum and journalist Pamela Whitby, “but this is hard to achieve.” Screen time includes mobile phones and television sets as well as computers, so it’s likely most that children regularly exceed these two hours. And it’s what children do in those two hours – and who they meet – that parents don’t always know about.
Pamela has a lot of experience in child safety online, being a mum herself and author of the new book Is Your Child Safe Online: a parents guide to the internet, Facebook, mobile phones and other new media.
“The main concern for parents about children using the internet is safety,” she says. “You’ve got to be aware of what your children are doing online, even at school.” It’s not uncommon for young students to have passwords to managed learning websites at school, or play online games at home. “They’ll go on the internet to find games,” Pamela explains. Young children are just learning about what the internet can do, and aren’t necessarily aware of what search terms and websites can bring unreliable, scam-driven results. An OFCOM poll reports that 61% of parents for the 5-15 age group don’t have adequate online filters or parental controls in place.
But, communication and openness regarding internet usage and safe practice is vital. “Parents need to be actively involved with what their child is doing,” Pamela stresses. “And, they also have to talk to their children about what they are doing. It’s like helping your child learn to read – you can help them by sitting down and understanding the games they are playing.”
Because some games also allow chat, it’s important to help children learn that communicating on the internet is different from communicating face-to-face, such as on the playground or at school. “Tell kids to think about what they put on the internet, and what’s ok to say – once it’s there, it’s there forever and they can’t take it back,” explains Pamela.
“It’s also important not to overreact,” Pamela continues. They’re just learning, and children forget things. This isn’t just a one-off conversation”
Pamela’s top internet safety tips for parents:
- Get involved in wider debate about internet safety – speak to parents at school about what they’re doing, and visit websites such as Safer Internet and Parent Port to report inappropriate content and get advice.
- Know what the age restrictions are on social media websites. For instance, children under 13 cannot sign up to Facebook, but they can log on by giving a false birthdate. You can report instances of improper use.
- Don’t give your children your password to unlock parental controls.
- Understand your child’s school’s policy about internet use and cyberbullying.
- Research software that can block certain websites, and that records your child’s browsing history (such as Google SafeSearch)
- Use ctrl+printscreen (to paste (ctrl+v) onto a Word document) to keep a record of offensive chat messages.
- Keep your computer in the family room, and set a specific amount of time that your child can use the internet each day.
Decoding internet-speak – common acronyms you may see your child use:
- POS (parent over shoulder)
- PANB (parents nearby)
- PAL (parents are listening)
- PA (parent alert)
- P911 (my parents are coming)
- WTFP (want to go private)
- IPN (I’m posting naked)
- IWALU (I will always love you)
- KOL (kiss on lips)
Pamela Whitby is a freelance journalist who has written about a variety of topics, including IT, telecoms, the media and parenting. Is Your Child Safe Online: a parents guide to the internet, Facebook, mobile phones and other new media is available to buy from Amazon and Waterstones.