Protecting a child from harm is one of the greatest anxieties, perhaps the greatest, parents experience as they bring up their children. Whether it's keeping your eyes and ears peeled in noisy soft play areas, heaving swimming pools or bustling fairgrounds, parents everywhere do their best to keep life changing dangers at bay, but do we take the same care when our kids go online?
Like children all around the world, my 9, 8 and 6 year olds love to play on their iPads after a tiring day, but perhaps because we can see and hear them and they are in a physical environment we deem safe, quite understandably thinking about what they're accessing online can feel a little like an afterthought. As long as we know where they are and what they're doing, they're fine, right?
Not quite. The NSPCC's latest report about children accessing the internet puts the dangers of web based content into perspective. Four out of five children in the UK feel that social media sites are failing to protect them from pornographic content, self harm, bullying and hatred. That's 80% of children in England Wales, who don't feel safe online, regardless of whether they're sitting at home on the sofa or in their bedrooms.
Whilst platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter are committed to tackling explicit and illegal content, the road to complete eradication of phenomena like child pornography, snuff videos and hate speech online is a slow one and it's become clear that it's down to us as parents to protect our children from potentially life altering experiences in the digital world. There are two hugely important solutions which can make a world of difference.
The first is finding a balance between safeguarding our children and giving them the tools they need to make smart choices online. The NSPCC's research once again highlighted just how savvy our children are - 87% of children polled for their study said they knew how to keep themselves safe whilst using the internet. That figure however, will drop as the age demographic lowers, so for parents of young children, online safety boils down to introducing a basic level of awareness and taking advantage of resources like the growing number of filters available on sites and apps. There's a fine line between setting boundaries online and invading a child's privacy, too. Putting together a family agreement is a great way to give a child the space they need whilst at the same time instilling healthy online behaviours. For example, the agreement could include what sites a child can visit, good practice whilst using the internet and how to alert adults to content that may feel inappropriate or distressing.
The second solution asks us to populate the internet with high quality, age appropriate content which can be easily found by children, thus steering them away from experiences which could damage a child's development. That's why I created Zeamu Music. The latest study by the NSPCC reinforced for me why Zeamu Music is so needed. Not only are we offering a musically safe alternative for children who are too young to listen to lyrics with sexual, violent and aggressive content, but we are offering a solution to a real and insidious problem. A NetMums poll surveyed 1500 parents and 81.7% said their child had sung or repeated sexual song lyrics without realising what they meant. Around 8.5% of these parents questioned said their child was 5 or younger when they first became aware of what these lyrics meant. This statistic is a problem. How many parents would say they were comfortable with their 5 plus year old singing this type of content?
Will Gardner, CEO of Childnet International which campaigns for a safer internet, feels our music is part of the solution: 'I am pleased that there are things like this that gives parents the choice. More controlled content online will reassure many parents who want to make sure their children start out in the right way.'
Zeamu music offers so much more than just great pop music just for kids. It offers children a vital opportunity to see life through their own lens rather than having adult lenses forced into their picture of the world and confusing it with adult experiences. Giving children the chance to explore the best of the internet isn't just about protecting them from dangers online, it's also about creating discerning consumers who value quality and seek out what they need, rather than what they don't. And that has long term implications for our children, far into adolescence and beyond.
Parents and carers instinctively protect children in the real world, and keeping kids safe online is just as important, and with a little preparation and the right solution for you as a family, can become second nature too.