Keeping kids safe online

Love or loathe it, the internet is here to stay, so how can we help our children surf safely?

The internet enables us to access a vast and ever-expanding world of information, much of which is informative and entertaining. Unfortunately, the tap of a finger or click of a mouse can also lead directly – often without warning – to words or images that are offensive, illegal or dangerous.

What scares parents about the web?

Children's health is a big concern. Lots of kids spend hours sitting indoors playing with gadgets when they could be outside getting fresh air and exercise.

Parents also worry about how social media affects young people's relationships and communication skills as more and more contact is via sharing other people's thoughts, and 'friends' include individuals they have never met.

Besides the potential dangers that lurk online, there’s also the addictive nature of the internet. Whatever your age, the compulsion to play just one more game, check social networks incessantly or shop for stuff you don’t need and can’t afford can be irresistible.

As well as providing playmates around the clock, the internet gives children the opportunity to partake in everything from gambling and gaming to self-improvement and cyber sex.

Kids, teens and internet access

Internet use is growing all the time. Twenty years ago, only 13 per cent of UK households had a computer but by 2012, 81 per cent had at least one. In 2014, three-quarters of UK adults access the internet every day.

Most teenagers own, or have access to, a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop. This means they can engage with people online, in the privacy of their bedroom, via a whole raft of different social networking sites and share words, images and videos as they wish.

Children are not always too concerned about privacy, either. A survey in 2013 found that one-third of 12-15-year-olds had a social networking profile that could be viewed by people they didn't know.

Did you know? Facts and stats about kids online

Ofcom’s recent report, Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes, shows that:
• Children aged 12-15 spend 17.2 hours online each week and children aged eight to 11 spend 10.5 hours.
• Seven in 10 children aged five to 15 have access to a tablet computer at home. One in three children aged five to 15 owns their own tablet.
• More than 60 per cent of 12-15-year-olds in the UK own a smartphone.

How to keep your kids safe

• Use parental controls Make it a priority is to use parental controls as much as possible, however many tantrums it causes. According to Ofcom, over half of parents don't use parental controls on the device their child uses to access the internet. What’s more, half of the parents of children with smartphones are unsure whether the bar on adult content (which requires users to verify their age before accessing adult or 18+ content) is in place.

• Encourage children to talk about anything that worries them Online bullying is rife among some groups of young people and can have devastating consequences, whether your child is a victim or a bully themselves.

child on tablet• Tackle what they share online and who they share it with This is an important message to get across. It's hard for a 14-year-old to appreciate that the 'silly' or 'fun' photos they share with their friends may still be accessible when they're job-hunting a few years down the line.

• 'Ground' them if you have to Ultimately, you have control and can confiscate devices, switch off routers and refuse to shell out for gaming subscriptions – effectively grounding them online. However, children will find a way to access what they want to access, and unfortunately they're often more internet-savvy than their parents, so check out our resources below for information and advice to help you help your child.

• Talk to your child about internet safety
As this particular genie can't be stuffed back into the bottle, the most important thing is to talk to children about how to use the internet safely and responsibly. If you're not sure where to start, try Childnet International's guide for parents.

More internet safety resources

Check out these sites to help you and your family stay safe online:
• The UK Safer Internet Centre is packed with info about how to use the internet safely, including how to install parental controls and check your child’s browsing history.
Kids Smart will help you gen up on the safety aspects of social networking, gaming, music and film online; and ensure the digital content your teenagers access is legal.
Net Nanny and Webroot sell software that can block access to unsafe content online.

Find out how one dad feels about how the internet affects family life.

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