Despite all the wonders of the internet and the endless opportunities it provides for many, there is a darker side that the more vulnerable amongst society, including children, need to be aware of. With growing concerns over children on social media, there is now a plethora of sites and apps that allow a two-way communication process between users. Whilst in many ways interactions with others via this means could improve social skills and allow both parties to learn more about each other’s culture, there will always be some looking to take advantage of the situation.
Here at St Peter’s, we acknowledge that, when used safely, the internet is an invaluable educational tool that can act as a resource for children across a variety of subjects. We don’t think parents should have to sacrifice the benefits of the internet for the safety of their child. Below we have come up with a few tips and rules for you to follow, so your child can browse appropriate material without being at risk.
Teach them the importance of privacy
It’s a good idea to create a set of ground rules whereby the child knows they must not reveal specific types of personal information, regardless of the circumstances. Names, phone numbers, email addresses, real addresses, passwords, schools and pictures should all be identified as off-limits. The best policy is often honesty and openness with your child, in explaining that not everyone will have the best intentions and hope for the same kind of behaviour in return. Make sure they know that if they are unsure about anyone or anything, to let you know, and you can decide how to move forward together.
Set house rules and expectations
On a rainy day in the winter, when you’ve got lots to do, it may seem like an easy option to let your child have a little extra screen time. However, the need to set boundaries and restrict the length of time your child can communicate in virtual spaces is of paramount importance. Keep track of how long your child has been online and look for any tell-tale signs that could signify something inappropriate is going on. For example, if your child becomes uncharacteristically angry or upset when you ask them to put down the iPad, that could be a sign of something else going on behind the scenes.
Know the rules
Most social media sites have a minimum age of people allowed to have accounts. This means regardless of how much your children may ask, they aren’t allowed a profile until they reach the age stated, and failure to comply can result in suspension. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit and Snapchat require users to be at least 13, before creating an account. WhatsApp requires a minimum age of 16, while platforms such as YouTube have a minimum age of 18, although children aged 13-17 can subscribe with parental permission.
Have regular conversations about the internet
Modern lifestyles are busy, to say the least, and not everyone can find the time to sit and discuss the dangers of the internet in full detail on regular occasions. However, it’s important to regularly check-in with your children, be it on the way back from swimming lessons or over breakfast before the dash to school. Talk to them about what their devices can do and how they use them, so you can keep an eye out for any warning signs that may need addressing. You can also create profiles on the same platforms and connect with your children, but there’s a thin line between keeping them safe and invading their privacy, depending on their age.
Reiterate the dangers
It’s important not to hide or mask the dangers of the internet in an attempt to protect your child. Make sure they know that someone they have met online might not be who they say they are, and what they could potentially do with the information given to them. Remind them that if anything makes them feel uncomfortable or worried, they log-out and find a trusted adult to confide in about the situation. Ask open-ended questions such as ‘what do you think someone could do with your name, age and location?’ to encourage them to think of and acknowledge the dangers themselves.
We hope these five tips on keeping children safe online has provided some help and inspiration for parents of pupils at our prep school and anyone else who may find this information useful. The internet is a valuable learning resource which, when used appropriately, can enhance the educational materials available to all. However, with increasing concerns over those who target the most vulnerable in society online, it’s never been more important to remain vigilant when it comes to cybersecurity.