Parents Admit They know nothing About Risky Sites Their Kids Visit

19/07/2016 10:26 | Updated 19 July 2016

Bullying: it's every parent's worst nightmare. It used to be the case that our children were safe once we got them within our own four walls. But not any more. Now bullying can take place right under your nose, with the sorts of digital apps and games that so many children use proving to be a funnel for harmful abuse.

The worst thing about it all is that so many parents are completely oblivious to the fact that their children are in harm's way.

That was certainly the case for the mum of Birmingham 12-year-old Zayam*.

Originally teased for not being online like his peers, the schoolboy was pressured into signing up for a popular game. Having poured his pocket money into building up his profile he was then picked on remorselessly for being 'rubbish' at the game.

His mum hadn't known there was even a chat function and that playing the game put him in the firing line for cruel bullies until she investigated what was happening to her son.

She explained: "He downloaded this game, but I didn't realise it had a chat function as well. Whenever he put up a post there was a load of negative comments, people would make fun of him, they bullied him about how rubbish he was at the game and were nasty to him.

"It got to the point where I had to join the game to find out exactly how someone could be bullied on an app - it wasn't an Xbox or anything like that, it was just an iPad game. So then when I realised there was chat on it, I joined and stayed in the same group as him to make sure that other children didn't join back in."

The mum tried, and failed, to get the makers to change Zayam's username to help him escape the bullies and she ended up deleting his account to protect him from further harm.

Yet the problem seems widespread, with fewer than one in ten parents ever having even heard of the worst websites when it comes to sexual, violent or bullying material according to a new poll.

McAfee conducted its study after the NSPCC revealed that half of the children it surveyed had seen sexual, violent and other adult material on social media, apps and games.

Take chat site Omegle, for example. A massive 89 per cent of children say they have seen unpleasant material on there yet just 6.8 per cent of parents have heard of it. Or how about Chatroulette? Only 8.8 per cent of parents know that this is a place where a conversation with random strangers is encouraged, yet 92 per cent of children have found inappropriate material on it.

Every single child surveyed knew that harmful content rests among the risqué jokes on Sickipedia - but just 12 per cent of 1,242 parents spoke to had heard of it.

Lucie Russell, head of child online safety at the NSPCC, said: "As a parent it can be difficult to keep up with the many different websites, apps and games our children know so well.

"For children their offline and online lives aren't separate, and that's why it's really important you talk to your children about their online lives like you do their lives offline.
The internet is a treasure trove of connections and knowledge but there are also risks.

"So it's important to have conversations that help your child understand how to stay safe and what to do if they ever feel scared or uncomfortable."

Zayam and his mum ended up turning to charity Kidscape to try to learn how to combat cyberbullying. Zayam, though, is still to terrified to venture back online and has chosen to shun the internet - not something that many of the modern generation are going to do in a hurry.

Peter Bradley, director of services for charity Kidscape, told us that parents need to try their best to get up to speed with the dangers of the digital world they and their children are facing.

He said:

"It is evident that parents still need to improve their online knowledge to keep their children safe. Although filters are provided for internet safety, over half of parents still do not apply them.

"Parents have a very important part to play in their children's online safety and even if they are not tech savvy, as an adult they are aware of the dangers.

"Through talking to their child, the parent can become aware of the sites and apps they are accessing and will then be able to discuss the dangers involved."

It's becoming clear that some of the responsibility does rest on the shoulders of parents to set the tone for a safer way of operating online.

We live in a world in which 34.6 per cent of people have never even bothered to read the terms and conditions of an app - leaving them completely unaware as to where the private data they keep online could end up - and where 14.2 per cent of parents of under 12s have actually set up a social media account for their children despite the fact that the age limit for many such sites is 13.

Mr Bradley urged: "Parents should also be good role models. For example, only posting appropriate images and words on their own social networking pages, and also limiting the time they spend on mobile devices.

"In turn, this will give a positive, clear indication to the child of what is and isn't acceptable online."

Mrs Russell also reckons that parents need to use online controls more effectively to protect their children from the darker side of the internet - a resource that can hardly be ignored in the modern day. She feels that learning what is and isn't a risk online is a life skill that the modern child has to pick up.

Mrs Russell said: "Parents can help protect their children online by using parental controls on social networks and browsers and on both hardware and software that can filter or monitor what your child can see.

"You know your child best, so check that the websites, social networks and games they're using are suitable for them. Online games, movies and some websites will also have an age rating or minimum age to sign up.

"Age limits are there to keep children safe so you shouldn't feel pressured into letting your child sign up or use websites that you feel they are too young for. But filters and blocks are only one part of the jigsaw of online safety. Parents should also help their children to navigate the internet so they get the best from it, help them to develop their awareness when risks may be present, and also to let them know you are there for them if there is anything worrying them that they have seen online."

A spokesman for McAfee said: "It's quite eye-opening to see just how many parents are completely unaware of the sites and apps that their children are using, especially since the children themselves have raised some of these sites as a concern to the NSPCC.

"If parents are to apply the same level of care for their children online as they do in the 'real world' then they need to get up to speed on the sites their children use and the potential threats their online activities pose.

"The internet offers fantastic resources for adults and children alike, but it stops being fun if it's not safe."

Boys and girls like Zayam would certainly agree with the last sentiment.

*I was asked to change Zayam's name to protect his identity.