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Online safety, a guide for parents

We've been surveying young people about their online experiences and talking to PC Alan Earl about educating both young people and their parents about online safety.

Alan is currently seconded to the South West Grid for Learning as a Harm Reduction Officer and is keen to tackle all things cyber. We spoke to him to get his views and top-tips for parents on how to keep their children safe online.

Do you think social networking is a positive thing for young people?

Yes, absolutely. So far 82% of young people we have surveyed say they have more positive than negative experiences online. Social media and the internet in general are fantastic resources and present many fun and exciting learning and social opportunities for everyone, regardless of age. It is a great way for everyone to connect.

As social networking becomes ever more popular, do you think it is a concern for parents?

The challenge is to ensure a balance, so that the use of technology does not negatively impact on children's lives. It should be a fun and positive experience and if it's not - because of bullying on Facebook for example, then seek advice from sites like Beat Bullying, CEOP or Childnet. Or if they are compulsively checking updates, there are strategies that can be used to help manage how much time they spend online.

Alan Earl

Pulling the plug on kids internet use or confiscating their smart phone may work for a while, but your child can access the web from all sorts of places and you won't have any idea who they are talking to or have any way of monitoring it. The best thing to do is talk to children, tell them your concerns and how they can keep themselves safe.

child in front of computer

What should parents be aware of?

We need to keep in mind that sadly the world online is the same as the real world and there are risks we need to be aware of and take steps to minimise. Quite often the same kind of advice and rules that apply in the offline world will apply in the online world and, as always, prevention is better than cure!

We work with schools, parents and children themselves throughout the year to deliver online safety advice. Speak to your child's school and see if they are offering any sessions.

It isn't just children who need to be careful. Anyone who uses the internet either socially or for shopping, banking or other business uses needs to know how to protect themselves. There are lots of simple but effective things people can do to keep themselves safe online and there are lots of advice websites including our own, CEOPs and Action Fraud, to help people.

What can parents do to protect children?

The most valuable thing a parent can do is talk to their child(ren) about the internet. Dialogue with your child will help you understand what sites they use and how they use them. This does not always mean you need to know everything, older children will need and expect a little privacy but, by continuing the conversation should know they can come to you for help without overreaction.

When you talk to your child, make it relaxed so they are happy to come to you if there is a problem and they don't hide things because they are scared or because they think you will stop them from using the internet altogether.

Talking points:

  • Worried about inappropriate messaging or sexting? Explain to them that what goes online stays online. The best idea is not to post anything they wouldn't normally show a stranger or be uncomfortable about their classmates or family seeing. In our survey, results so far show that close to 60% of young people have had someone ask them for a naked picture online.
  • Who are they talking to? Explain to your child that it's vital to know who they are talking to. People might not always be who they say they are and that they should never go alone to meet anyone they have met online. Tell them not to give out contact details, their location, bank details or anything personal to people they haven't met.
  • What should they do if something is wrong? Tell them that if they, or you, don't like something someone is saying, they can report it to the site and block the user. Explain that if someone asks them to do something that makes them uncomfortable, they should log off immediately and tell someone.

Top tips:

  • Check the sites your child is looking at to make sure it's suitable. Monitor their pages or posts regularly.
  • Talk to your child's school if they are being bullied online. They will often have a policy or guidelines for this problem.
  • Make sure you know where and how to report a site or to get posts removed from a site if something abusive or illegal is featured or your child feels upset or threatened.
  • Agree time limits or use time limiting apps and remove portable devices from your child's bedroom at night to avoid tiredness.
  • Make sure you understand privacy and security settings for things like Facebook so you can work with your child to ensure their pages are as secure as possible and can't be accessed by strangers.

Advice sites for parents

If something has made you or your child feel uncomfortable online, you can report the site or person online on the CEOP website

UK Safer Internet Centre website

Thinkuknow website

Childnet website

Internet Matters website