Keeping up to date with what your children are doing when they’re online can seem daunting. Technology is constantly advancing and it’s easy to feel like your kids know more about the internet than you do.
A huge favourite with young people, social networking sites allow them to stay in touch with each other. According to parental control website www.internetmatters.org, the average 12 to 15 year old has 272 social network friends. The internet can be a great place for youngsters to meet new people with similar interests, as well as share photos and videos, but can also be a place to be aware of dangers.
With children using the internet from an increasingly early age, typically three or four, there’s plenty you can do as a parent to ensure your kids are safe using social networks.
What are the dangers?
Meeting and chatting to new people online can pose a huge risk to your child, from grooming and online forms of sexual abuse, to cyberbullying. It’s easy for people to create fake profiles on social media, so not everyone they meet will be who they say they are. It’s easy for them to connect with complete strangers through the likes of Facebook and Twitter. All they have to do is accept friend
requests and followers.
Most social networks and apps include an instant messaging function which means your youngster can have private conversations with other site members. With the physical barrier of a screen, some people get the confidence to pressurise others into sending messages they aren’t comfortable with.
Young people can also be put at risk by sites and apps that share their location. This can make them a target for people who actively seek out children with the intention of meeting in the real world. Sharing a location can also raise concerns to do with identity theft and privacy. Another issue to be aware of on social media is cyber bullying. Two thirds of secondary school aged pupils agree that it is easier to say something hurtful online than in real life. Posts on social networks can be seen by a lot of people very quickly and it is easy for cyberbullies to remain anonymous by using fake profiles or blocking phone numbers. Cyberbullying can be hard to get away from and it can happen anywhere, anytime, even when your child is at home.
‘Educate yourself about social media and pay attention to legal age rules. A child’s maturity should be a good gauge on whether they can act safely, but maintain an ongoing dialogue.’
How to stay safe
To keep your child safe on social networks, educate yourself as much as possible. Set some boundaries and rules, but make sure your child accepts them and that you both feel happy. There are plenty of safe sites designed for younger users (www.clubpenguin.com, www.webkinz.com or www.whyville.net).
Agree an appropriate time for them to join social media and help them to create their profile. This is also a good time to clue yourself up on any privacy settings so you can set them at the strongest level.
Make sure you teach your child how to block or ignore people, create a sentence together for them to use in case they need to exit an uncomfortable conversation.
When your youngster first joins social media, you or another trusted adult could become friends with your child to keep an eye on them. One in three 12 to 15 year olds may be in contact with people they don’t know on their social networking site profile. That means that it is also important to stress that meeting up with people they know online can be dangerous and that they should only do so if they get permission from you first.
E-safety expert John Carr recommends: ‘Ask your children to show you the social media apps or sites they are using, and get them to take you through who their friends
are or show you the people who they’re in contact with.’
Setting parental controls for your home broadband is the easiest way to filter and restrict inappropriate websites. You can often choose between age categories or the type of protection you need, as well as blocking certain websites at certain times, for example while your child is doing homework. There are a number of websites and apps that explain what to do if children are faced with a difficult situation online.
Internet Matters has in-depth advice for parents across all devices such as iPhone, Android and tablets, as well as entertainment providers such as YouTube and Netflix. Use the ‘guide to parental controls’ on www.internetmatters.org .
Is it app-ropriate?
Minimum age: 13+
Facebook lets you create a page about yourself. From there you can add friends, share pictures and videos, write on people’s pages, send instant messages and join online groups.
Minimum age: 13+
Instagram is a picture- and video-sharing app where you can follow friends, family, celebrities and even companies. Hashtags let users share experiences, thoughts or memories online.
Minimum age: 13+
Snapchat lets you send a photo or short video to your friends. The image or video appears on screen for a matter of seconds before disappearing completely. There’s also a feature called Snapchat Story that lets you share lots of snaps with all your followers in a sequence for up to 24 hours.
Minimum age: 13+
Twitter let you post public messages called Tweets, which can be up to 140 characters long. As well as Tweets, users can also send private messages.