I am a self-confessed lover of Social Media. From a professional perspective I have seen what a powerful tool it is to build brands and from a personal perspective, it is a lifeline to friends and family who sadly I do not see as much as I would like. However, as a mum of two YouTube loving girls it terrifies me and we haven’t even got to the point of them having their own mobile phones!
Daily we hear stories of the impact of Cyberbullying, Online Grooming, Children accessing inappropriate content, online fraud and sexting. At the same time the internet offers children endless possibilities to learn, create and communicate. So how can we keep our children safe but still allow them to benefit from the wonderful opportunities the digital world provides?
I am not an expert, however having read articles and attended meetings at my girl’s schools this is the simple checklist I have come up with for how to start to protect children to decrease the risks they face:
1) Talk, Talk, Talk- arguably the best way to help children say safe online is to talk to them.
- Talk about what they want to do online and the sites they want to use so you can understand the situations they are likely to encounter. You are therefore well placed to provide advise on how to deal with them for example access to games with online communities will require certain actions and risk management strategies v participation in Social Media such as Instagram and Snapchat.
- Children have an amazing ability to find ways around rules. For example in one survey 63% of teens surveyed, admitted they knew how to hide what they do online from their parents (Norton Online Living Report 2009). If the dialogue is open and continuous they are less likely to be secretive and more likely to come to you if they are concerned about something.
- Ultimately it is about letting your child know that you are always there to support them. There are a number of resources out there to help you to talk about online dangers in an age appropriate way and I have listed some below.
2) Set boundaries- It is never too early to start setting rules about when, where and how long your child can use devices. For example one rule could be that a device is only used in a communal area so you can keep an ear out for anything that sounds inappropriate. Others could be to agree the sites they can visit and the type of information they can look for and share.
3) Be aware and follow age appropriate guidelines- games have ratings based upon the content and each of the Social Media networks have minimum age restrictions e.g. the minimum age limit is 13 for Facebook and Instagram. These guidelines have been created for a reason and provide a great way to explain to your child that it isn’t about you being a boring parent, it is about the law and protecting them from seeing things that are not appropriate for their age.
4) Set controls- No filter can be 100% accurate however it is possible to set controls at 3 levels; on your broadband router, at device level e.g laptop, phone, tablet, game console and at application level for example Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, You Tube etc.
- Broadband / Router level- It is worth considering that if you set controls at router level which is the full ‘belts and braces’ approach) this could mean that you will not be able to access certain content which may be useful to you so this is something you need to weigh up. A discussion with your provider e.g. BT, Sky, Talk Talk will let you understand your options and the majority now offer free parental control packages.
- Device level- Each device e.g. laptop, phone, computer, tablet etc will also have the ability to set parameters and it is recommended that any device your children use should have this enabled. Consider also disabling location services on phones so your child doesn’t unintentionally share their location with others.
- Application level- Applications can also have age appropriate settings and therefore these should be enabled too. Generally, you can activate and change levels depending upon your child’s age and abilities. Set up password control or disable in-app purchasing so big bills are not run up accidentally.
5) Set profile settings to private- Social Media is great to share information, photos and just about everything they do! They need to think about the information they post online as it could be copied and pasted anywhere without their permission which can have far reaching impact - they need to understand this (back to talk, talk, talk). However, if the settings are set to private and only visible to their friends, risks are minimised
6) Choose friends carefully- Children need to understand that they should only be ‘friends’ with people they know and trust in the ‘real’ world. Talking to your child about the friends they have online and how they know them can be helpful. I am godmother to a friend’s daughter and one of the stipulations of her going on Social Media was that both her mother and myself were accepted as friends so she had multiple people who could keep an eye out for potential issues. This turned out to be a good strategy when I saw a number of unpleasant posts on her feed by some ‘friends’. I contacted her mum straightaway who was able to stop the behaviour before it became too damaging. It might not be ‘cool’ but if positioned for safety with clear ground-rules on engagement on the feed it works.
7) Learn how to report any inappropriate content or contact made to your child online- Hopefully you will never need to do this however there are various options here. On sites such as Facebook and YouTube there are ways to report content and block people. Each site is different so familiarise yourself on what you need to do. Contacting the sites is the only way you can get offensive content removed. Activity can also be reported to the police via the ClickCEOP button at www.ceop.police.uk
This is by no means an exhaustive list and I would love to hear any top tips you have further to the ideas suggested above, so that we can share these with other parents.