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Snapchat Maps Set A Sullen Scene For Kids' Online Safety This Summer

27/07/2017 17:19
JackF via Getty Images

With a wealth of gadgets available today, from tablets to games consoles to mobile phones, children are infinitely more tech-savvy than in years gone by - the average 13 year old has a far better grasp of the internet than most 40-somethings I know.

But despite this relatively sophisticated understanding of the web, children aren't immune to the dangers of the digital world. In fact, their heightened levels of trust and curiosity leaves them more exposed to security and safety threats.

Barely a day goes by without news of children being groomed or targeted online making headlines. Snapchat introduced a new location sharing feature in a June update of the app, allowing its users to share their location with other contacts to an accurate point on a map - potentially exposing the exact whereabouts of hundreds of thousands of children using the app.

Meanwhile, a recent BBC investigation found that children as young as nine are being groomed on Periscope, a live streaming app owned by Twitter. Across the Atlantic, the FBI issued a warning about connected toys, suggesting that toys with sensors, cameras, microphones or GPS functions (such as Mattel's Aristotle or the My Friend Cayla doll) could be putting the privacy and safety of children at risk.

And as the summer holidays get into full swing and the temperature heats up, so too will children's media consumption, so if you're looking for some practical advice to help keep your kids safe online, here are some useful pointers to try to bear in mind when letting your kids use the web:

Install parental controls
With the ability to Google anything, it's all too easy to stumble upon inappropriate content today. You can protect your kids from seeing too much by installing parental controls, such as the Nanny extension for Google Chrome or the Kidgy app for Apple or Android mobile phones, or your broadband provider may offer a network-based parental control covering all devices connected to it.

Check public Wi-Fi settings
While your home Wi-Fi might already be family friendly, don't simply assume that public Wi-Fi in hotels, restaurants and shopping centres will come with the same security settings. Ensure these are safe for your child to browse before granting access, as the risks are significantly higher on public internet connections.

Agree a list of sites/apps
You might want to consider agreeing a list of websites and apps for younger children to use. Depending on their age, you may prefer to keep them away from social networking sites like Facebook or Instagram, or allow them to set up a profile but limit the amount of personal information they reveal online, such as the name of their school or their date of birth.

Consider a tech curfew

Similarly, you could also look into setting and agreeing time limits for your kids to use their gadgets. There are plenty of apps and extensions that can help you do this, such as Screen Time and Kidslox, so you needn't be clock-watching and nagging every time they reach their curfew.

Talk about cyberbullying
It's not just hackers and predatory adults that you need to keep your kids safe from - other children can pose a serious threat as bullying has moved from the playground to the web, and likewise, your child may be guilty of cyberbullying. Explain that it's wrong to write or post anything online deliberately trying to hurt another person's feelings, and that if they wouldn't say something to someone's face, they shouldn't be saying it online either.

Explain the permanence of what's posted on the web
Children can struggle to understand that what they post online publicly can be accessed by anyone, even long after it appears to have been deleted. Teach them that anything they post online should be assumed to be permanent and to think twice about publishing personal information such as photos or their address.

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