In a digital age, learning to stay safe online is the same as learning to stay safe on the streets. This page will look at ways to ensure your child stays safe on-line, with practical advice and links to articles on the subject.
For the purpose of this page; I will be focussing mainly on the use of computer/tablets and phones to access social media, including web-based and app-based platforms. As the use of games-consoles is a similar issue, but with many more complexities, I have published a second page on gaming.
SMART internet safety
In school, I like to teach about the SMART rules of Internet Safety, as I feel that it is a very easy acronym for children to retain. Indeed, there are many images and posters available to print out and put in your house to help your children remember the SMART rules of Internet Safety.
So what are these rules?
Safe – this rule is all about keeping your personal information safe. If you’re talking to people online, make sure it is in-game chat only (unless you know and trust the person) and you don’t reveal any personal information about yourself in a public forum as you don’t know who’s listening. Check out my gaming advice page for more on gaming safety. On social media, this includes turning off location tagging and not posting photos that could reveal where you live/go to school.
Meeting – simply, NEVER meet up with someone that you have met online. At least, if you really want to meet up with someone that you’ve met online, a trusted adult should see the messages that they’ve been sending to make sure they’ve not been saying inappropriate things/grooming, and you must take a trusted adult with you and meet in a safe place.
Accepting – in most cases, accepting refers to not accepting emails/messages from unknown sources as they may contain viruses or inappropriate materials. Never, ever click on a link from someone that you don’t know, or a message that doesn’t look like its been sent by the person that it says its from. I also extend accepting to being not accepting friend requests from people that you don’t know.
Reliable – a great one for the current ‘fake news’ generation: is the information that you’re reading reliable, and can you verify it from other sources.
Tell -Tell is as it seems and the most important of all. When something goes wrong online, or you see something that makes you feel uncomfortable, or someone tries to get personal information from you – tell a trusted adult. It could be a parent, a relative, a friend’s parent, a teacher. It doesn’t matter who, but you have to TELL! This one does require trust on both parties – please do look at my ‘what’s the solution’ section of the gaming page for more on this.
By abiding by these rules, your child will be safe online – but they are not rules to be taught as a one off. They need to be reinforced and kept to, and parents should always check the safety of their children online.
Social media Settings
Most social media sites have a ‘minimum age’, however, as it is not illegal to be younger than the minimum age on these sites, just advisory, many younger children use them. You MUST ensure that, if you allow your child to use one of these sites, you set up the account. In order to access the site, your child will have to lie about their age. If you are doing this for your child you MUST keep that age below 16 as it will enable the child protection features by default.
Make sure that the account has the highest privacy and safety settings enabled. As there are so many different social media platforms out there, I won’t be able to note how to do this on each platform, but fortunately there are many online guides. Search for “how to keep my child safe on …” or “how to enable security settings on…”
This, however, will not guarantee your child’s safety, as they could add people that they don’t know: their friends may have added someone who is not known to any of them and then that person will have a way of adding your child. Monitor your child’s usage – let them know that you are doing it and make sure you know their password. They should know that you wont read messages to any of their friends, as trust needs to be established, but you are accessing it only to check that there isn’t anyone who is trying to target them. In school we do say that parents should know passwords, and children are receptive to this in school, but I know that many won’t have shared them with their parents.
A great video to show your child before they get social media is Jigsaw by CEOP
Unfortunately, sexting amongst young people is very common, and something that must be talked about at home. Sexting is when a person shares a picture of themselves with revealing clothes or no clothes on with another person. Sexting in U18s is illegal, and inadvisable at any age, as, whilst the recipient sharing these images with another person is illegal, it is very common. The NSPCC has produced a document on sexting that I would recommend you read. In this document, it is noted that “statistics range between 15 and 40 per cent of young people being involved in sexting, depending on their age and the way sexting is measured.”
With the popularity of Snapchat, sexting is ever more prevalent. Snapchat enables the user to send an image/video that disappears after a set amount of time. Often, without guidance, children think that it will be funny to send a naked picture because it will only go to the person that they send it to, and it will disappear. Wrong. Firstly, once something is put online, it is never gone. Most things can be recovered by people that know how. Secondly, even though Snapchat notifies you if someone takes a screen shot of your image, someone could potentially take that image via screen shot and share it with other people. Also, you don’t know if someone uses a second device to photograph a sent image.
It is important that these discussions happen at home. If you are concerned that your child may be at a stage where sexting is something that might appeal to them, or indeed if they are in a relationship for the first time, I’d recommend you watch Exposed by CEOP with them, and discuss it.
If your child has been targeted online, follow the below link to the CEOP reporting service
If you are concerned about your child’s online habits, or want to find out more, I’d suggest looking at the following blogs/articles/websites.