THE BLOG

We Can All Help Make the Internet a Safer Place for Children

11/02/2014 16:42 GMT | Updated 13/04/2014 10:59 BST

How can we make the internet safer? It's such a big question and one that charities like the NSPCC, big tech firms, government departments, schools and parents all have an active role in answering.

But there is one group that I think don't often get asked for their views enough; children and young people. That to me seems very odd because they are the so often the ones we worry about and the first generation whose lives have been led without knowing a world that wasn't online.

So on this year's Safer Internet Day I find myself thinking about the conversations that need to be had to make the internet a better place for us all, but especially for children and young people.

The theme for this year's Safer Internet Day is 'Let's create a better internet together' and you don't need to be a technical expert to make a positive contribution to this effort. For me, it's as much about everyone - industry, Government, teachers, families and the public - talking more about the behaviour we expect to see from everyone who is online.

NSPCC research shows that over one in four children between the age of 11 and 16 who have a social networking site profile have experienced something upsetting on it in the last year, with 11% of them dealing with this problem on a daily basis. It's not currently possible to enforce a ban on children using those sites, so instead we need to talk to them about respect, responsibility and managing difficult situations when they are online.

The NSPCC firmly believes social networking sites must recognise their role here by making it easier for young people to report and resolve experiences that upset them, and for reports of abuse to be responded to by a greater number of human moderators.

But these companies should also do more to emphasise the sort of behaviour which is and isn't tolerated on their site - for example by using videos and online tutorials that discuss safety and what it means to be a considerate member.

This should be backed up by a zero tolerance approach to anyone who doesn't follow their code of conduct, including deleting accounts. The advertising industry has a role to play in only advertising on social networking sites which take children's safety seriously.

At the same time schools need to make building digital judgement a more central part of all children's learning; these lessons should include the emotional impact of risky or offensive online activity.

And, most importantly, these messages need to be regularly reiterated at home. This might not come as music to the ears of the many parents who worry that they aren't equipped with the right technological knowledge to give their children "the online safety talk". But it doesn't need to be daunting if mums and dads remember it's like any other type of parenting where rules and boundaries are set.

A survey conducted by ChildLine in 2012 showed that most of the 851 young people who responded wanted their families to be involved in educating them about being safe online, but needed this process to be a two-way conversation rather than an 'expert' lecture.

So if you are a parent, why not start by asking your children what they like and don't like about the internet and move on to explore each other's expectations of how you want to face online opportunities, risks and challenges together.

The NSPCC, ChildLine, the Safer Internet Centre, and CEOP, all have a wealth of information to support parents, young people and professionals with the information they need to start conversations about staying safe online.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed and to see the online world as an unchained monster. But it is here to stay. So let's agree that the internet is not an uncontrollable force, but something instead for us as individuals and a society to own, shape and improve.