The Internet is a great place! I, personally, love it. So much information and entertainment can be found online. There are really supportive communities online that captivate all that is good about us humans. However, there is also a dark and sinister side to the Internet.
A Panorama programme on the BBC highlighted just one such side: the devastating effects cyberbullying can have on our especially vulnerable children and adolescents. One horror story the BBC showed was of what happened to an 11 year old girl. They told the story of her of how after posting a rather silly YouTube clip of herself baiting the Internet trolls (people who leave nasty comments and try to get one up on an Internet user “purely to provoke a reaction”), this poor girl got harassed to no end- all her internet accounts were hacked, her real address published, malicious comments left on accounts, constant pizza deliveries ordered to her address and so on… and this was against an 11 year old. The Internet knows no mercy!
There are countless examples of young people committing suicide because of cyberbullying or their reputation being pulled to tatters because of an error in judgement of what they choose to post about themselves. There is a real danger of the Internet being used by inappropriate people to gain access to and the confidence of our children. So much so that the UK government has set up the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, who work in both the online and offline environments to protect children from sexual exploitation and investigate other areas of abuse online too. This is the sad reality of our modern world.
…but what can we, parents, do to protect our children?
Educate, educate, educate! Educate ourselves, educate our children and those around us in contact with our children (relatives, friends)- for one. We, as parents, need to be aware of the actual dangers and then be able to help our children understand these (without taking away the joy that the Internet can bring).
There are some excellent sites and organisations to help parents, carers and teachers learn more about the Internet and protecting our children. (Some listed below.)
Schools are taking more of an active role to help promote Internet safety both to the pupils and their parents. We are lucky, the school where Little Miss goes to has an Internet safety briefing for parents coming up soon. Ask your child’s school to take part too and take proactive steps if they are not doing so already.
Next step is to be aware of our children’s online activities. You can see this as spying or as a way of protecting our youngsters. According to the CEOP over 50% of parents don’t know that their children have received nasty or hurtful messages online and children are often too frightened to turn to their parents thinking they have done something wrong. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be that parent who finds out way too late about this, do you?
Some of the simple Internet safety steps CEOP suggests:
- Create separate accounts for all users on computers (with passwords). Keep admin rights only to yourself and other adult users.
- Activate Parental controls for Internet and other programs
- Disable the webcam on the computers your child is using it- with webcams our children create a digital footprint for themselves and the video clip that might only be intended for their close friend will stay on the Internet forever. A flashed breast out of young love intended for only the boyfriend’s eyes can easily go viral on a break up, or even get passed around in all the wrong circles through malicious hacking.
- Look at your child’s online profiles- Is it really reflective of their age or does it make them out to be someone who they are not (older, portraying provocative images, etc.)?
- Talk to your children about their online activities, keep the discussion open and one promoting a two-way trust between you and your child.
- Ask your children to come to you as soon as they come across anything that worries, frightens or makes them suspicious while they are online and direct them to sites like CEOP’s site- Thinkuknow.com- to understand more.
Last week I was lucky enough to take part in a briefing by CEOP, who have partnered with Microsoft on a new-release, customised Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) browser for parents and young people (download for free from Microsoft’s site).
Microsoft demonstrated their parental controls on Windows 7 and also the customised IE9 browser (available to download for free here)
The great features that caught my attention were:
- Being able to set permissions and monitor the child’s/teen’s activates, but also allowing them to know about this (so you are doing it behind their back, but with mutual consent.)
- The ability to grant permissions (for example to access blocked sites) by an administrator/ parent remotely via email.
- An instant access to CEOP’s reporting tool, which allows the user to submit a report of suspicious online activity to real people (with real teeth to do something about it.)
I dread the time my children will become active online! The Safer Internet day has definitely given me some focus on issues I need to prepare them for in their online lives. Just as nurturing a baby you start off breast- or bottle-feeding, you let them branch out slowly and try actual foods, when they are ready to digest what is in front of them and of course you try to select what is put in front of them till they are mature enough to deal with it… and I mean properly mature, and not just (in this case) able to do it on the computer!
Have you had any issues around the use of the Internet either for yourself or for your children?
Some great online resources that I’ve come across:
Thinkuknow site created by CEOP for all ages- children, teens, parents and teachers
BBC’s Share Take Care initiative
Internet Safety Day site
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Agency’s site
I also found this message from Nellie Kroes on behalf of Digital Agenda for Europe quite interesting: