The interweb is a big and scary place, and that’s just for the grown-ups. While we think our kids may have it licked because they know all the memes and cool terms, they are still kids and can lack the experience and the discernment to know when something may put their privacy or safety at risk, especially if they have learning disabilities or are especially naïve.
It’s hard enough for adults to be able to tell what’s fake from what’s real, especially these days, so how do we help to protect our children? Today is Safer Internet Day #SID2017 and while we’ve written tips for safe browsing and playing online before, today we have something extra: tips from a teen who is an online aficionado.
Some tips from me from experience
As my kids are now (cough) 19 and 17 and one is an online-savvy media student, we have been through the things you may only just be arriving at. So, here's some things that we did.
- Use your router/hub to filter what your kids can see. You should be able to go into the online settings for the router and limit online times, devices and even websites. You should also be able to block adult content. Not knowing how to do this is no excuse. Get the instructions out or google it.
- Use parental controls on the computer itself or add on parental control software to allow or disallow websites and online times. You can also set it so that your child can email you of they get to a blocked page that shouldn’t be so you can change the settings.
- Don’t leave them alone for too long, especially if you’ve allowed them to have a computer in their room. I wouldn’t recommend this for under 13s in any case.
- If your child has a mobile, you will be the responsible person, so you should be able to ask your mobile provider to block the browsing of adult websites for that number.
- Use the browser settings on the computer to block adult content, enable safe or strict browsing search settings and perhaps use a tracking blocker such as Ghostery or similar if you're sick of being followed by the same ads around the net.
- Password protect the computer (even if it's theirs) so they can’t log in when you’re not around.
- Don’t forget Xboxes, other gaming consoles and TVs that can get online and sites such as YouTube and Netflix. You can ensure those have safe settings switched on and adult content blocked too.
- Don’t be afraid to flag questionable content on your own Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or wherever you are. You can be part of the solution, it takes us all to take a stand.
- Talk to your children and agree written family rules about online use. Set consequences for straying such as loss of online time or pocket money.
- Educate them about Facebook Privacy (see link later) such as the restrictions on different friends seeing different things via "acquaintances" and "close friends" settings.
Now…A Teenager’s top tips
My media-student son spends a fair portion of his spare time online. Many of his IRL (that's 'In Real Life' to us) friends he met online first. He’s savvy and resilient so I asked for some tips to pass on to parents and to up-and-coming teensters.
- Don’t make the mistake of thinking your kids are just on Facebook Messenger. Today, teens are communicating in many ways including SnapChat, Skype, WhatsApp, Instagram, VOIP chat systems, during console games and on services such as Steam and Minecraft. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, they’ve moved somewhere else.
- Don’t give out your real name, just have an online alias.
- If someone messages you who you don’t know, ignore it.
- Don’t be afraid to block people or use the report function.
- If you feel threatened, tell someone you trust, even if it’s just another friend. If you DO feel threatened or distressed, block and walk away or shut down. Don’t respond or get into it with them, it's not worth it.
- Don’t send pictures of yourself to anyone.
- Don’t click on links you are sent in chat by people you don’t trust because they could take you anywhere, especially phishing sites that you may not be able to tell are not the real thing.
What are schools doing about internet safety?
The new computing curriculum includes internet safety at each key stage and was developed with input from e-safety experts including Childnet, NSPCC and the UK Safer Internet Centre. Schools are also able to teach e-safety during PSHE lessons and every school is required by law to have measures in place to prevent all forms of bullying including cyber-bullying.
What else is being done?
The Educate Against Hate website provides a ‘one-stop-shop’ to school leaders, teachers and parents with information, tools and resources to help them recognise and address extremism and radicalisation in young people; this includes on-line radicalisation. The website has been developed with the support of the NSPCC and a range of internet safety charities. (see the end of the post).
Sharing very personal images
Pressure to ‘sext’ images can be great for both girls and boys. They can worry that if they don’t reciprocate they will lose face, lose friends or lose a boyfriend/girlfriend. (See this PDF for guidance on sexting for schools and colleges). This is especially the case if the child has low self-esteem, has learning difficulties or is otherwise vulnerable. There are resources at the bottom of this article that can help.
Even using sites such as Snapchat, where the image self-destructs, isn’t fool-proof as there is more than one way to save an image or screenshot without the other person knowing. The general rule for any photo or video sharing is that if you don’t want anyone else to see it, don’t upload it in the first place. This is the same rule for children, teens, students and even adults. Google has a long memory and recruiters know how to use it as well.
Facebook privacy basics
If you’re on Facebook (and who isn’t?) and you aren’t familiar with privacy settings, get familiar. Too often I see images of children shared with public sharing settings, making them a complete gift for paedophiles. Read our post here about who's looking and saving your photos. You may take the view that it’s all out there so what can you do about it, and that’s a decision for you and your partner. Not to mention your child. On Instagram, you can keep a closed feed, unless your need for followers is more than your need for your child’s privacy. Here is a post I wrote about Facebook privacy tips.
Be careful uploading pics of your own children
Pretty much EVERY parent blogger arrives at the point when they publish a post questioning whether they should continue to share pictures of their growing child. Only they can answer this, along with their child and be prepared to take the images down if requested.
I went through the same. I always asked my sons' permission, but by the time we all woke up to the sick reality of images being stolen, the children in my older posts no longer existed. At SNJ, we no longer share images of other people’s children unless it is filtered, has the post title on it or the parent’s face is right next to the child. Again, read our post here to find out more…
There’s lots of information on official sites, and almost too many sites to choose from. But they will all tell you similar information, especially about where to report stuff (IWF below)
- Thinkuknow offers a guide to internet safety and safe surfing for young people as well as parents and carers. It also contains pointers to further advice and support.
- ParentInfo’s Learning disabilities, autism and internet safety
- ParentInfo's Staying safe on Minecraft
- Parent Zone for Special Needs online safety
- Snapchat: What to do if you’re worried
- SaferInternet: Education Pack for Parents and Carers
- Internet watch Foundation if you find something that you feel should be reported
- Parent and carer guide from UKCCIS
- Internet Matters
- UK Safer Internet Centre.
- Any other resources or tips? Add them in the comments
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She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
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