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Help children stay safe online during the summer hols: a guide for parents, grandparents and carers

By Will Gardner, CEO of Childnet International, a partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre. 

Children with different internet connected devices

A new survey conducted by Mumsnet and Gransnet for the Internet Watch Foundation, a partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC), reveals that one in four parents (25%) in the UK say their children regularly use internet connected devices without adult supervision. The survey, on children’s use of the internet and safety measures taken by parents and grandparents to help them navigate safely, also found that more than half (56%) of children with access to internet connected devices under the age of 4 use them without any parental controls. 

The new survey also reveals that parents are more comfortable talking to children about the risks of social networks and online gaming, than they are talking about staying safe while using webcams or live-streaming. Yet, according to a report published by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in May 2018, children as young as three are being sexually abused via live-streaming apps. Moreover, 96% of the images and videos identified for this study showed a child on their own in a home environment.

With over 10 million pupils beginning the long-awaited summer holidays, the CEO of Childnet International, Will Gardner, shares this advice and top tips with parents, grandparents and carers on how to help keep children safe online. 

  1. Talk about online safety with your children, as soon as they have access to internet connected devices.

Does your toddler have access to internet connected devices? Then it is time to talk with him or her about how they should use technology. 

Talk regularly with your child and find out what their digital life is like, including what services they are using. You can ask your children to give you a tour of the sites or apps they like to use, use devices together and you can even create your own account to be familiar with the app your children are using. You can use our Digiduck story book. This story is an engaging and simple way to look at online safety with 3-7 year olds. You can also follow the story of Smartie the Penguin and help him to navigate the online world with the help of mummy penguin’s song. 

Talk about what behaviour might be OK for children of different ages. Remember that this isn’t a one-off conversation. Adapt the chat as your child gets older, as they may be exposed to different online risks. Our suggested conversation starters for parents and carers can help you start a discussion about online safety with your children in an open way. Talking PANTS from NSPCC is also a good way to teach children how to stay safe from abuse – offline and online. 

  2. Set up parental controls and filterers.

There are lots of tools to help you manage the devices used by your family. Knowing how to activate and use parental controls can help protect your child from seeing inappropriate content online. Parental controls can be used to limit access to only age-appropriate content and to monitor activity. They can also be set up at different levels. For instance, internet service providers, mobile operators, internet devices and online services like YouTube have parental controls settings to help restrict access to inappropriate content. 

For advice and guidance on how to make use of parental controls and other safety features on devices, check out these tips from Childnet International on parental controls, or UKSIC’s free Parents’ Guide to Technology

  3. Make a family agreement about device usage.

It’s important to remember that no filter is ever 100% effective on its own and any controls should only be used if they work for you and your family. As well as putting parental controls in place it is important to educate your child about the potential risks online, and establish rules concerning the sites that are suitable to visit.

Your family can make a Family Agreement, where the whole family can be involved in making promises about whether to use streaming services, who to use them with, or where in the house it is OK to use them. Parents may decide that devices that can be used for live-streaming and video chatting (such as tablets, phones, webcams connected to computers and laptops) should not be located in bedrooms or more private areas of a house. For further advice, check our video chat and webcams guide

  4. Learn to safe live-stream.

Live-streaming is becoming a very popular way for young people to broadcast themselves on many different apps, to communicate with their friends or wider community, just as their favourite celebrities and vloggers do. Make sure your children understand the risks of live-streaming. Live broadcasts can’t be edited, and you can’t erase what people have already seen. 

Live video can be faked, so encourage your child to think carefully about why an unknown person might want to video chat with them. If a site has privacy settings, always make sure your children use them to control who can contact them. This UKSIC guide introduces the safety features available on the most popular social networks.

Remind them that personal information might be given away by things said during the stream, things shown on camera or even in the background. Importantly, live-streams can be recorded by others, who can then keep a copy even after the stream has ended or expired. You could agree that they can live-stream only from a set room in the house and always with the door open. You might agree that an adult must always be present or forewarn them that you will check in at regular intervals throughout their stream.

The Net Aware guide from the NSPCC includes the most popular social networks young people use, and tells you which services include live-streaming, or allow young people to connect with people they only know online.  

  5. Teach your child when to say no.

Children may be groomed or coerced into appearing naked on camera or performing suggestive acts over webcams, as the IWF revealed in new research on child sexual abuse live-streaming. This content can also be recorded and used to threaten or blackmail young people. It’s therefore crucial for parents and carers to be aware of children’s use of technology and to educate them on the dangers posed to them by offenders. 

Tell your child that if he or she is ever asked to say or do something online they don’t feel comfortable with, they can always say no, end the chat or broadcast, and talk in confidence with you or another trusted adult. Remind them that it is never too late to tell you about something which has happened online. These key SMART rules will help your children keep themselves safer online. If you’re worried about online abuse or someone has been communicating with your child, you can always report to the police at www.ceop.police.uk

  6. See abusive content? Report it!

Show your children how they can report offensive or abusive material they see while being online. You can help your child stay safe online by using features such as privacy settings on social media and understanding how to make a report on a range of apps, games and services. 

If you, or your children, ever stumble across child sexual abuse material online, you can also report it to the Internet Watch Foundation. Reporting takes less than 2 minutes and can be done completely anonymously. 

Childnet International works directly with children and young people from the ages of 3 to 18, as well as parents, carers, teachers and professionals, helping to make the internet a great and safe place for children and young people. 

Have a safe summer!

Will Gardner

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