Education used to focus on honing skills in reading, writing and arithmetic (the “three Rs”) but these days, a fourth crucial skill is proving to be a source of worry for parents across the globe: internet safety.
Latest research indicates that 91 per cent of children aged five to fifteen have access to Internet in their homes, and over a third of children as young as three or four use the Internet at home. Therefore, ensuring they use these resources safely, should be a priority both within school settings and at home.
What the statistics say
According to the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, only 58 per cent of teachers feel that students have the skill and knowledge they need to use the internet in a safe manner at home. Some 52 per cent of teachers reported that students at their school have been the victims of cyberbullying, most often on social network sites.
The Childwise Monitor Report (2012/2013) provides more useful statistics, since it surveyed almost 3,000 children and youths aged five to 16 in the UK. The Report showed increasing use of the internet, thanks in no small part to the availability of technology. Some 96 per cent of children have a personal computer at home and 44 per cent of children aged five to 10 (and 96 per cent of children aged 11 to 16) have a mobile phone. Of the children with mobile phones, some 59 per cent sometimes access internet on this device. Many also have profiles on social networks; take Facebook – 63 per cent of children aged nine to 16 have a profile on this site, as do 36 per cent of children aged nine to 12. Frequency of use is another relevant consideration – 43 per cent of children aged five to seven use the internet on a daily basis, while 85 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds do the same.
It isn’t only parents who are worried about the dangers their children can encounter on the internet; children, too, are expressing disdain about aspects like pornography and violence (which they find disgusting and scary, respectively); loss of privacy (through someone else uploading their image onto social network sites); sex site pop-ups; propositions from strangers to meet up; racist or sexual messages and/or scary images, etc.
One of the most upsetting online risks for children is bullying – interestingly, although the EU Kids Online survey found that 21 per cent of UK children said they had been bullied, only eight per cent reported that this had occurred on the internet. The latest report from Beatbullying, meanwhile, reports that 28 per cent of children aged 11 to 16 have been deliberately bullied either by an individual or group via mobile phone or the internet.
Beatbullying notes that the laudable efforts of many internet service and mobile phone providers on how to avoid being cyberbullied have had little impact. In fact, in comparison to the year 2009, fewer children are following the recommended steps, which include reporting the bullying action, blocking the bully, and recording evidence. Another risk is sexual grooming – the practise in which children are approached on social networks as part of a scheme to lure them into a scenario where they can be abused.
A recent study carried out by Disney’s Club Penguin, which surveyed 1,000 parents with children aged 6 to 12, found that 36 per cent of parents failed to monitor their children’s online activity regularly. Meanwhile, less than a fifth of the parents were exercising parental control over their children’s use of mobile phones and personal computers, despite 45 per cent saying they were worried their child would fall prey to cyberbullying. Part of the problem, it seems, is a lack of knowledge: 36 per cent of parents said they felt overwhelmed by complicated instructions on how to set up parental controls/use filters.
So what can a parent do?
A study carried out by the BBC and the UK Safer Internet Centre found that one in eight children routinely encounters upsetting, violent or sexually explicit material while using the internet. Therefore, a lack of technological awareness or time, is hardly a fitting excuse.
There are many proactive steps parents can take to ensure their child is not a victim of online abuse. Tips include:
- Talking to children in an open manner about the ups and downs of internet use. Children should feel free to approach their parents if they come across upsetting matter on the internet, or if they are victims of bullying. They should also know of important strategies to take. The latter include being very strict about the content they share, keeping personal information personal, using nicknames instead of their real name and never including contact information in their social discussions, blocking potential bullies and predators, etc.
- Exercising control over children’s internet use: Parents should always keep an eye on how their child is using the internet at any given moment: the computer screen should be within a parent’s view. Additionally, parents need to ensure that any games children are playing are appropriate for their age, and that safety features (such as ‘safe chat mode’ – in which predetermined phrases are used to communicate with other players) are activated. Parents should also have a look at their child’s internet history, and place safety filters on all devices their child uses to access the internet.
- Encouraging older children to use social networks appropriately: Parents should take the required time to teach children how to set privacy settings, as well as block and/or report. They should also be advised to never allow anyone they do not actually know into their online social circle. In the same way that children should be taught defensive strategies, they should also be taught not to offend.
- Reporting inappropriate behaviour: Reports about inappropriate online behaviour can be made to www.ceop.police.uk. Inappropriate media content (online and offline) can be reported on www.parentport.org.uk. Criminal content can be reported to www.iwf.org.uk. Stalking behaviour can be reported on the National Stalking Helpline on Tel: 0808 802 0300. Help with bullying can be found on www.beatbullying.org (for children aged 11 to 17). If your child is under 11, see http://minimentors.org.uk/
We hope that you have found this blog post interesting. Please feel free to tell us what you think about internet safety, by adding a comment to our blog below.