As a parent to tiny little humans I am growing in my desire to be Internet savvy in preparation for the day they are old enough to be online (lets be honest that’s not far off in the world we live in now). At the NWG Network we are increasingly being involved in stories of children and young people being exploited online. Between this and what I read in the news I would like to isolate my children from all online technology till they are at least 18.
I have spent a lot of time in the last couple of years researching and reading about online safety, as more and more young people are being groomed or exploited online. Yet, I am still shocked by the time, effort and lengths those who groom children will go to, to build relationships. I was shocked recently to read in the news of the predatory abuser who groomed young boys in Wales by befriending them on Minecraft and luring them into private chat rooms before going on to abuse them on and offline. I thought Minecraft was safe! I thought it was for younger children! I know lots of friends children who use it! I didn’t think it was like all the ‘other’ sites that I know aren’t that safe. Maybe I was trying naively to believe there was some space online somewhere that was free from exploitation.
The fact my children could be on a tablet or computer – safely in my home away from creepy predators (ironically there is often nothing creepy about people who abuse or exploit children) but could still be subjected to abuse scares me. As does the impact this can have on destroying innocence and trust. The damage that can be done through online grooming and abuse is massive and irreversible.
So I am embracing the fact that wrapping my little humans up in fairytales till they are18 probably isn’t a realistic option but what can I do as a parent and as a professional to raise awareness of the risks and dangers of the online world while being able to encourage my children and their friends to have positive online experiences? I have adapted these 5 keys that I have found along the way and I think encompass what I feel we can do as parents & professionals;
1. Foster open and honest communication with children about everything, I will make it my priority to listen to my children and hear what they tell me – especially about all things online.
2. Encourage them to tell you which sites they might be using and talk to you about anything they see online. I want my children to know they can tell me anything that makes them feel both uncomfortable and exciting.
3. Set boundaries and make an agreement on what they can and cannot do online and keep reviewing that, as they get older.
4. Read up on information available through schools and official sites, such as ParentInfo, to make sure you are aware of issues and armed with information. I don’t want to leave safety to my children to grapple with, I want to be ahead of the curve as much as I can.
5. Equip my children with everything they need to know about life online, I like these little tips:
* Think about what they say online. Respect others and don’t get involved in online fights or reply to bullying emails, text messages or online conversations – leave the conversation when it is unfriendly.
* Be careful what pictures or videos you upload. Once a picture is shared online it cannot be taken back.
* Only add people you know and trust to friends/followers lists online. Remember not everyone is who he or she say’s they are!
At the end of the day nobody is safeguarding my children online – that has to be my job. Lets spread the word; lets empower adults to take the lead on raising the bar on keeping children safe online rather than leave them to a world which isn’t always what it seems.
p.s There are some great websites to resource yourself with more info;
– net-aware.org .uk
– Think U Know
– Child Net
– Safer Internet
Youth Participation Lead