Whose responsibility is it to keep your child safe online?

Whose responsibility is it to keep your child safe online?

 The internet is very dangerous. Children should be banned from computers until they’re 18.

I have no idea what I clicked, but the damned computer just took me away from what I was viewing, and onto some totally random site!

Snapchat isn’t dangerous – the images are gone in an instant.

Don’t worry about Facebook. As long as they’re not on Grinder you’re fine.

All things that have been said to me recently. As a parent who knows a fair bit about social media, I thought we would have it sorted when the time comes for our children to begin their online footprint. Yet as the day looms large when Actually Daddy and I will begin the discussion with our eldest about which phone is appropriate for a 10 year old, I realise that we have a lot to learn if we are to keep up with her. And if that’s true for us, who work in online marketing and social media, how on earth is everyone else going to handle it?

The social media jungle

Vine, TunePics, Tango Text, Sportlobster, Keek – it goes on, and on, and on… New social apps pop up seemingly every day. The non-internet savvy parent could be forgiven for retiring to bed with a large whisky and hiding under a pillow, such is the task of understanding it all. But we can’t. Like no generation of parents ever before, we need to learn about the arena our children are in, so we can guide them, supervise them, prevent them from getting it wrong.

Or do we..?

Yesterday I was party to a round table discussion with AVG Technologies, the internet security business, and Childnet International, an organisation which works with children and schools to maximise both the benefits of the internet to children, and to ensure it’s safe use. AVG recently undertook some research which demonstrates that, although e-safety is covered in the vast majority of UK schools, too much of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of teachers who are not always fully confident with the internet themselves. The findings speak for themselves:

  • 50% of UK teachers think that schools should provide better training on use of the internet
  • Nearly two thirds of teachers have not been formally trained to teach internet safety
  • 38% admitted being approached by their students with concerns around internet safety issues, with cyberbullying and access to inappropriate content being the most common student concerns.

Tellingly, the vast majority of teachers feel that parents are too reliant on schools to teach their children about e-safety, with 38% feeling that parents themselves don’t know enough about how to keep their children safe online.

Are parents unwittingly putting their children at risk online?

Interestingly, one of the anecdotes relayed across the table yesterday was an example of that scary game “What can I find out about you online?” Tales unfolded of children whose photographs, schools, home addresses, and extra-curricular club times were all transparently discoverable with a simple internet search. All because of a few posts on social media, or the wrong privacy settings. It is that easy. I found nothing on my own children, but then they are still in single digits, and I’m careful with my settings and images. I also know enough to check that when my friends post about my children having fun with theirs, their privacy settings don’t put either child on the internet for all to see. But it won’t be long before those children begin digital footprints of their own, and children aren’t as cautious as their parents.

Things you should do to keep your child safe online

Although the tempting option is to run away, parents need to educate themselves before they can guide their children. A teacher acquaintance recently told me that children should be banned from social media, citing an awful mistake one of her students had made that had resulted in expulsion. My view is different. Not only will children find a way to access the things parents forbid (remember how you did that as a child?), but banning them from online sites is banning them from joining the conversation with their friends; it is restricting how they learn; and over-policing their activity will drive them further and further away from mainstream sites that you understand, in their search for a private life.

I prefer to show my children everything I can about the internet and social media while I can, while they’re young enough to care what their mum and dad think. Here are some things you can, and should do to make sure the internet is a safe and enjoyable resource for your child:

  1. Consider setting up parental controls on your home broadband service. The 4 big internet providers in the UK provide customers with free parental controls which can be easily activated at any time. You can view a short video on how to set up your parental controls here. This should prevent most of the accidental clicking, or curious searches, from landing on sites you would rather your child did not see.
  2. Check your gaming consoles for internet access settings too – many parents are unaware that their X-box is connected to the internet.
  3. Take some time to go through the settings on your own, and your child’s smartphone and tablet. Location services is one setting that I have massively controlled on mine. An instagram of your child at their school fair? You do not want to add a location to that! The UK Safer Internet Centre gives a helpful guide on how to manage settings on mobile devices, and on gaming consoles.
  4. You’ll also find guides to privacy controls on the social media sites your child is most likely to be using here. And yes, Club Penguin is a social media site.

Childnet also recommend starting the dialogue with your children before it becomes an issue. When I see an online argument get heated, or individuals in private forums making unpleasant comments about others, I tell my children. I don’t recite it word for word, obviously, but when something bothers me, I let my family know what the implications of that behaviour are. Because if the first time they hear of an online spat is when it happens to them, how will they know how to react? Here are some things you might want to ask your child, to get the conversation started:

  • Do you know what things you shouldn’t say online? Never give your real name, address, or school details, etc.
  • What would you do if you saw something online that made you frightened or uncomfortable? Always tell a trusted adult.
  • How would you feel if you saw someone being bullied online? What would you do?
  • How do you think we could use the internet productively to enjoy time as a family? Could we all learn something together online?

So, what kind of parent are you? Do you prefer to keep children away from the internet unless they’re supervised? Do you cross your fingers, leave them to it, and hope for the best? Or do you think you can embrace the online arena and guide your child through your own experiences?

AVG Technologies will release more findings from their research conducted with teachers on Thursday, at the Child Internet Safety Summit in London. I’ll keep you posted on what I learn there.

26 thoughts on “Whose responsibility is it to keep your child safe online?”

  1. Interesting post and something which is just starting to affect me now my son has turned 13. They use the internet for homework, YouTube videos and a few games currently, but he wasn’t allowed to go on Facebook or any social media until he was 13. Like you I of course feel more savvy than most parents, but I now know I’m going to have to make a special effort to keep up.
    I’ve searched for my kids online and I’m pleased to say all I’ve found is a couple of pics of them in the local paper – and nothing from me, because I’m very careful.
    At our school teachers do a good job of teaching internet safety – judging by what my kids lecture me with – but I think that gets much harder for secondary school teachers as the pace moves much faster there.

    • It is reassuring to hear from he children themselves what is impressed on them by the school. I’ve yet to experience it, but I gather our local secondary is really proactive.good luck keeping pace!

  2. Given that my babies are now adults I have little say in what they look at on line – but I like to think I have taught them well and to make sensible decisions. I think the key is to breed a culture of openness. We share computers in our house, the kids never had machines in their rooms until they were adults and so internet use has always been open and we have always been aware of what they were doing. We have only ever had one problem with someone giving Bernard a hard time and she immediately came to me and asked for help. It is the responsibility of parents to teach their children how to be safe just as you would teach them manners and tying their shoe laces – we can’t expect teachers to do everything – we have to responsible for our own children

    • I feel the same Mary but I think a lot of parents find it all too daunting and leave it to the schools. Plus, children are learning at a faster rate than their parents. You’re absolutely right that the key is having an open communication with children and being honest. Hopefully that way they’ll know to flag something up to you when it’s not right. It is difficult for them though. Kids learn by making mistakes, and when they do that online the consequences are potentially greater than they ever were in our day.

      Sounds like you did a fab job x

  3. Great post! I think it is easier for those of us who are online as we’re more careful as you say. Luckily Hubs’s background is in IT and I used to work in digital marketing, so I hope we will be sufficiently ahead of our kids, but I am far from complacent. This made me search for my kids online and I came up with next to nothing, all of which I’ve deleted as my children have quite unusual (in the UK) names.

  4. Thankyou for writing this much needed post. It always freaks me out how people post so many uber personal photos on Facebook – including naked garden ones at this time of year. My daughter is 8 and when she has friends round I often hear “ooh – lets look that up on youtube”! Amazing how young the knowledge starts. I don’t let the kids on youtube unless I’m with them, for fear of what they might open. Thanks for all the tips xx

    • YouTube is one of the worst sites for clicking ‘accidental’ links. But there is a (fairly complicated) way to set up controls within your channel so you’re not just relying on your browser settings.

  5. This is so timely for me having discovering only last week that my son had looked up sex on YouTube and no we had no filters or parent controls in place. I was horrified at what he accessed. Currently we aren’t worried any more about what he will see because he’s completely off computers for a short while but your post has helped me think of a couple of extra things I can do so thanks. X

    • Well this is the thing, as they age, children get curious, and want to see what they can find out. So as well as setting up controls (which are never 100%), I guess it’s also about starting the discussions with our kids so that if they do happen across something we’d rather they didn’t, they know how to deal with it.

  6. Great post and something that is always in the back of my mind. I do not let my daughter use my laptop – I need it for work so it is safer that way, but she does get to play on the iPad – generally it is app games that I have to download for her or she uses YouTube – I have changed all the settings on there to be child friendly but still! She is allowed on Netflix too but knows to go to the Kids section and then she can watch as much Spongebob as she likes.
    I try to limit any comments about my daughter but still… as a blogger… it’s not always that easy!

    • Tablets are one of the weakest areas I think. We have privacy, location, and parental control settings restricted on ours, but then when we use it as adults sometimes we reset those. The trick is remembering to put the controls back on before handing over the tablet for a quick 15 minute game!

  7. There really does need to be more education around this – to both parents and within schools too. Schools push for children to use the internet and computers more and more, how to use is safely should be going hand in hand.
    And I swear I recognize that and quote down, that’s she-who-mus-not-be-named is it?!

  8. An interesting post. The truth is that so many parents quite simply have no idea at all about what is possible online or how information can be found form what they’ve put on social media. I’m not sure that without understanding this themselves they can really properly educate their children on what’s sensible to do and what isn’t. But also, sadly, there’s a generation growing up who don’t seem to care what they put on social media either. People in their late teens who friend their boss on Facebook and then post about a wild night out on there, but still text their boss the next morning and claim they’ve got food poisoning so can’t go to work! It’s not just a case of educating people about being safe online, but also being smart online too!

    • Definitely. Many of the links give exactly that advice, and I know where schools do educate, this is one of the key focuses – so important.

  9. This is something that all parents need to be fully aware of as the consequences can be serious if we’re not. I mentor teenagers as a volunteer and the subject of social media comes up time and time again.
    I was pretty lucky with my daughters as they didn’t join Facebook until they were 18, even now they only accept friend requests from people they actually know. It’s essential for all of us who are blogging about out kids to protect their identity online. There’s no point in encouraging our kids to behave responsibly, if we’re posting everything online about them!

  10. I definitely think teachers and parents need to be internet savvy.My girl’s school do yearly talks with parents but I always find the teachers aren’t as up to date with their info as I am.As someone who has ‘an incident’ with someone online my kids are very aware about how to behave online and what to do if something uncomfortable.My son is 12 but I have insisted he does not have an e-mail account until he is 13, until then he can’t access any social media platforms like Facebook etc.On weekends my 3 kids ado take it in turns to use the lap top, which is in the living in my sight and they can only access certain sites.I think it’s very neglectful if parents don’t do anything to get themselves up to date with how social media works and their teachers have a responsibility too.

  11. Fabulous advice. My Ruby is 6 and is becoming increasingly interested in using the computer more than just for game apps so I think I need to take some action.

  12. Another top post Helen. I love the effort you put into them – always the extra mile. Have bookmarked and am off to share.

  13. My children learned years ago about online safety because I was right by their side when they were on the computer. We talked about everything, what they could and could not do, etc. They are young adults now, and actually will yell at me for sharing too much or going on Twitter tweetups.

  14. Obviously this is something we had to think about when your daughter was still a baby. They only use computers in the living room until they get a bit older, no-one is ever allowed to ‘hide’ what they’re looking at, and in fact we have the whole thing networked using Windows 7, so at any given moment we can peep in and see what they’re up to, plus we get reports on what they’ve Googled etc. I think it’s a parent’s responsibility to look, learn and understand. Letting them have free reign on the internet literally is giving them everything and everyone in the world to explore – and until they’re much older they don’t need or want that freedom.

  15. This is something we don’t really need to worry about YET but I still think a lot about how we will manage it in the future. Our eldest starts school in September and they will have access to computers.

  16. Great post and I really agree with what you say. Our son is coming up 11 (yes I know he shouldn’t be on social media at all) and I saw that he put a status that wasn’t very nice. But I am monitoring him and it gave me chance to (firstly get it removed) and secondly talk to him about how he treats others. I think he is young enough that I CAN have that conversation. As you say kids will be kids and will find a way. I just prefer to talk to mine about it all and let them learn (in hopefully a safe way as possible).

    The biggest thing I say is that they must use the internet where we can see them, so not in bedrooms.

    • Definitely. So many young children are watching YouTube videos, or using an iPad in their rooms, where one innocent click could take them god knows where. It scares me.


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