As technology advances, so does its appeal. Many children occupy themselves with laptops, mobile phones, the internet and TV – it is a useful way of keeping children happy for some of the day. However, we have recently been contacted by a number of parents who are concerned by what their children may be accessing online.
Internet use is difficult to monitor, children (and those who would like our children to see inappropriate images and to engage in dangerous conversation online) are constantly looking for new ways to trick the adults in our young people’s lives.
For example, are you aware
of what this app is?
You would be forgiven for thinking that it is a calculator when, in fact, it’s a way of concealing photos and files that a pupil may not want someone to find. They don’t expect a trusted adult to click on it because it is ‘just’ a calculator.
Here are some facts that may help to build a bigger picture:
- 70% of children aged 7-18 years old say they have accidentally come across pornographic images while doing homework online.
- 90% of children aged 8-16 have seen online pornography.
- There are 500,000 sexual predators online every day and 50,000 online at any given moment.
- Unfortunately, regardless of parental intentions and involvement, the Kidsafe Foundation reports nearly 32 percent of teenagers hide or delete their browsing history from their parents. It is imperative for parents to be diligent. (www. safety.lovetoknow.com)
- Sometimes, children lie about their ages in order to register with a particular app or online group. This means that other people online think children are much older than they actually are, so conversations taking place may not be appropriate.
- 65% of 8-16 year olds have been bullied online.
- 16% of teenagers have email accounts or social media apps that their parents don’t know about.
- 20% of pornography online involves children and 20,000 images are uploaded weekly.
- 86% of girls polled said their parents had no idea they were chatting online.
- Approximately 725,000 children have been aggressively asked for sex (to meet in person).
(http://www.safekidsonline.co.uk/learn/internet-safety-facts/ https://www.guardchild.com/statistics/ www. safety.lovetoknow.com https://sharedhope.org/2013/08/5-scary-statistics-about-children-on-the-internet/)
The statistics are scary. So what should we be doing as parents?
We need to know what our children are doing online. It sounds so simple but it’s more challenging than we think. As we move forward to educate ourselves: staff, children and parents, on internet safety, we will be sending out further information on steps that can be taken to keep our children safe. In the meantime, I just wanted to mention one app in particular.
It’s called ‘Snapchat’
and it looks like this:
Snapchat is an app that allows your child to share photos of themselves, online. The idea is that their photo will appear on a ‘friend’s’ phone for a few seconds before disappearing. It may sound harmless but it has a sinister side.
Children are often lulled into a false sense of security. They believe that because the image vanishes, the photographs will not last forever. As a result, some children feel they can post inappropriate and sometimes sexual images of themselves on this app because they will soon be deleted. This is incorrect. While the app may delete them, people have other ways of storing the images. For example, they can photograph the photograph using another phone, or screenshot it. They then have power over your child, as this image could be uploaded online and may stay there forever. Many children have been blackmailed in this way.
The other problem is that, because there is no ‘paper trail’, children feel they can bully others with no evidence; if they send a harmful message then there is potentially no proof of this. They feel a young person being bullied in this way can’t come forward to ask for help because the picture (evidence) is gone.
Another problem with Snapchat is that it is all about popularity. No child wants to look like they have no friends and so they agree to ‘befriend’ anyone who asks. This is difficult to police as parents, your child could have hundreds, if not thousands of people as ‘friends’, many of whom they have never met. This is dangerous, especially when your child is sharing photos. If the wrong photo gets into the wrong hands, it could end up online and, as we’ve all been taught, there is no way of deleting this. It could damage a person’s career or family life forever.
Snapchat is illegal to use for anyone under 13, however it does not make it safe for children over 13 to use either. Snapchat and other similar apps are gaining traction and becoming more and more important to young people today, so what do we do?
- Aside from putting proper parental filters on our internet systems, we can talk to our children. Talk to our children about online safety, talk to them about what their friends are doing online, ask them about the best apps online at the moment, ask them how to use a particular app. Keep conversation going. Through conversation we can not only educate our children but we can get a glimpse into what is happening in their lives too.
- It is also a good idea to keep anything with the internet on it in a family room. We need to avoid children going into a room with a closed door – that’s when we lose control over what they are doing. This is why it can be dangerous for a young person to have a mobile phone of their own.
- I also recommend being careful about giving children the impression that any technology is theirs. If an ipad/ipod/iphone/laptop belongs to them, it suggests not only that they are in charge of it, but that everything that takes place when they are using it is ‘private’. Instead, consider, for example, having a family laptop that children ‘borrow’. Or make it clear that if they do have a personal device, you as their parent have the password for it so you can check it at any time. If the password changes without your knowledge, they lose the privilege of using the device. It sounds harsh but as I said in a recent safety talk, you would not allow a child to walk down a darkened ally alone, even if they said they had the ‘right’ to or it was ‘private business’, we would see it as dangerous and so follow them. The internet can be just as dark and just as scary. Make sure your child is not alone.
- If you discover that your child has made a mistake online, try to treat it as a mistake. If a child feels they will be punished for doing something wrong on the internet, they are unlikely to tell you about it. Try to be a support so that if they are getting blackmailed or threatened, for example, they feel they can come and talk to you about it.
As we look towards the next academic year, we will be looking to run workshops and talks on internet safety. It would be lovely to see you there. Do feel free to contact us if you have any questions, we will do our best to answer them and to support where we can.
In the meantime, for further information, visit https://www.net-aware.org.uk/ which gives lots of information about current apps.