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Being Safe Online

This week, and regularly throughout the year, the teachers address E-Safety with the students to prepare them for their use of technology and their journey’s online. It isn’t an easy task and requires much repetition and the support of home and community.

Parents, relatives, teachers and other adults responsible for children’s safety want children and those we look after to be healthy and happy. Above all, we want them to be safe. Children learn through natural curiosity and exploration, and it is part of our job to encourage that. However, as they develop and discover new experiences, we have to take more and different steps to ensure their safety.

Until their maturity, understanding and instincts catch up with their curiosity, there are dangers that we need to protect them from and now more than ever this includes going online. 

 

They’re growing up fast

By now even the youngest of children have discovered computers, smartphones or tablets, they may already be used to using certain trusted websites and apps or if they’re older, using social networking sites.

By the time they are older still, they will probably already be ‘veterans’ who know their way around the internet, apps, games, downloading and social networking with ease. They probably know more about these things than you do. But they almost certainly don’t have the maturity and wisdom to handle all of the situations they encounter.

Which is why we need a measured approach to keeping our children safe when they’re online.

 

So what’s changed?

In the age of smartphones and tablets – effectively mini-computers that can be used anywhere – most parents find it a real challenge to not only educate their children in doing the right thing, but monitor and control their online behaviour.

 

The risks

None of us – of whatever age – is immune from encountering problems online. Our children are certainly at a vulnerable stage in their lives being more trusting than adults and hopefully having been less exposed to the darker side of the internet. They are also not as well equipped to deal with such issues – or their consequences. Some of these potential issues are as follows:

  • Inappropriate contact: from people who may wish to abuse, exploit or bully them.
  • Inappropriate conduct: because of their own and others’ online behaviour, such as the personal information they make public, for example on social networking sites. Unfortunately, children can also become cyberbullies, especially when encouraged by others.
  • Inappropriate content: being able to access or being sexually explicit, racist, violent, extremist or other harmful material, either through choice or in error.
  • Commercialism: being the targets of aggressive advertising and marketing messages.  
  • Gaining access to your personal information stored on your computer, mobile device or games console, and passing it on to others … or using your financial details such as payment card information.
  • Enabling viruses and spyware by careless or misinformed use of their or your computer, smartphone, tablet or games console.
  • Sexting – sharing personal and/or explicit photos of themselves with friends of strangers who then could use these to exploit or blackmail the individual. 

Everyone needs help sometimes … and that’s especially true of parents trying to stay switched-on to their children’s online safety. Take a look at these simple  guides for different ages. They may help you with what you can do and how you can enter discussions with your child. 

Advice if your child is under 5 years old

  • Start setting some boundaries, even at this early age … it’s never too early to do things like setting limits for the amount of time they can spend on the computer.
  • Make sure devices like your mobile, tablet or laptop are out of reach. Set up passwords/PINs and make sure you keep these details to yourself.
  • On computers and any other devices your child has access to, set the parental controls to the appropriate age, and enabling access to only appropriate content.
  • Buy or download parental control software, switch it on and keep it updated. There are many versions on the market, which work in different ways and available at a range of prices, starting at free.
  • The big four Internet Service Providers (ISPs) give their customers free parental controls which can be activated at any time. Check them out and take advantage of them.
  • Buy or download only apps, games, online TV and films which have age ratings, which you should check before allowing your child to play with or watch them.
  • Share your technology rules with grandparents, babysitters and your child’s friends’ parents so that they know what to do when looking after your child.
  • When using public WiFi – for example in cafés or hotels – remember that it might not include parental controls. Innocently letting your child play with your mobile or tablet while you’re enjoying a latte may result in them accessing inappropriate content or revealing personal information.
  • If you have a family computer or tablet, set the homepage to an appropriate website such as Cbeebies

If your child is aged 6 to 9 years old

  • On computers and any other devices your child has access to, set the parental controls to the appropriate age, and enabling access to only appropriate content.
  • Buy or download parental control software, switch it on and keep it updated. There are many versions on the market, which work in different ways and available at a range of prices, starting at free.
  • The big four Internet Service Providers (ISPs) give their customers free parental controls which can be activated at any time. Check them out and take advantage of them.
  • Agree a list of websites your child is allowed to visit and the kind of personal information they shouldn’t reveal about themselves online, such as the name of their school or their home address.
  • Set time limits for activities such as using the internet and games consoles.
  • Make sure your child is accessing only age-appropriate content by checking out the age ratings on games, online TV, films and apps.
  • Discuss with your older children what they should or shouldn’t be showing their younger siblings on the internet, mobile devices, games consoles and other devices.
  • Discuss with other parents subjects such as what age to buy children devices that connect to the internet.
  • Don’t be pressured by your child into letting them use certain technologies or view certain online content, if you don’t think they are old enough or mature enough… no matter how much they pester you or what their friends’ parents allow.

Advice if your child is aged 10 to 12

  • Set some boundaries for your child before they get their first ‘connected device’ (mobile, tablet, laptop or games console). Once they have it, it can be more difficult to change the way they use it or the settings.
  • Tell your child that it’s very important to keep phones and other devices secure and well hidden when they’re not at home, to minimise the risk of theft or loss.
  • Discuss with your child what is safe and appropriate to post and share online. Written comments, photos and videos all form part of their ‘digital footprint’ and could be seen by anyone and available on the internet forever, even if it is subsequently deleted.
  • Talk to your child about the kind of content they see online. They might be looking for information about their changing bodies and exploring relationships. They also need to understand the importance of not sending other people - whoever they are - pictures of themselves naked.
  • Remember that services like Facebook and YouTube have a minimum age limit of 13 for a reason. Don’t bow to pressure, talk to other parents and their school to make sure everyone is in agreement.
  • Explain to your child that being online doesn’t give them anonymity or protection, and that they shouldn’t do anything online that they wouldn’t do face-to-face.

Questions to ask

  • Do you really know everybody on your ‘friends’ list? 
  • Do you know how to use and set privacy and security settings? 
  • Can you show me how? Do you ever get messages from strangers? 
  • If so, how do you handle them? Do you know anyone who has made plans to meet someone offline that they’ve only ever spoken to online? 
  • Are people in your group of friends ever mean to each other, or to other people, online or on phones? 
  • If so, what do they say? 
  • Has anyone ever been mean to you? 
  • Would you tell me about it if they were? 
  • Has anyone at your school, or anyone else you know, taken naked or sexy photos and sent them to other people, or received photos like that? .

Advice if your child is aged 13 or over

  • It’s never too late to reinforce boundaries … your child may think they are adult enough, but they definitely still need your wisdom and guidance.
  • You may be starting to think your child knows more about using technology than you do, and you may be right. Make it your business to keep up to date and discuss what you know with your child.
  • Talk frankly to your child about how they explore issues related to the health, wellbeing, body image and sexuality of themselves and others online. They may be discovering inaccurate or dangerous information on online at what is a vulnerable time in their lives.
  • Review the settings on parental controls in line with your child’s age and maturity and adjust them if appropriate. They may ask you to trust them sufficiently to turn them off completely, but think carefully before you do and agree in advance what is acceptable online behaviour.
  • Also talk frankly to your child about how they behave towards others, particularly with regard to what they post online. Be willing to have frank conversations about bullying, and posting hurtful, misleading or untrue comments. Make them aware of the dangers of behaviours like sexting and inappropriate use of webcams.
  • Give your child control of their own budget for activities like downloading apps and music, but agree boundaries beforehand so that they manage their money responsibly. Don’t give them access to your payment card or other financial details.
  • Be clear in your own mind on issues such as copyrighted material and plagiarism so that you can explain to your child what is legal and what isn’t.
  • If your child has the technological know-how – and with sufficient influence from others – they could be vulnerable to experimenting with accessing confidential information from the websites of other people or companies. Hacking amongst this age group is very rare, but it does exist. Explain the dangers and consequences.

Here are some questions you could discuss with your children, now that they are older:

  • Do you really know everybody on your ‘friends’ list?
  • Do you know how to use and set privacy and security settings? Can you show me how?
  • Do you ever get messages from strangers? If so, how do you handle them?
  • Do you know anyone who has made plans to meet someone offline that they’ve only ever spoken to online?
  • Are people in your group of friends ever mean to each other, or to other people, online or on phones? If so, what do they say? Has anyone ever been mean to you? Would you tell me about it if they were?
  • Has anyone at your school, or anyone else you know, taken naked or sexy photos and sent them to other people, or received photos like that?

I hope that this information and these following suggestions will be helpful for you. Hopefully, we can keep them safe, starting with a positive and assertive set of steps and discussion.

David Sheehan

Head of Pastoral Care

NAIS HK