22/12/2015 11:22 GMT | Updated 22/12/2016 05:12 GMT

Staying Safe Online at Christmas (And Beyond)

As schools break up for the holidays, children across the UK and the world will be eagerly counting down the days to when they can unwrap new toys and gadgets. Christmas is a great time for families to spend together, for parents to learn along side of their children, and to see up close how they are engaging with technology.

The Internet is changing the world in the most amazing ways, bringing new and exciting possibilities for everyone, everywhere. Today nearly three billion people are connected to the internet, which means nearly half of the world is learning, communicating and exploring in ways unimaginable just a short time ago.

But parents are struggling to keep up with the pace of change. We are raising a "gap generation"; one in which kids are likely to be more prolific and experienced than their parents online. In the UK, we are working hard to close this gap and are supporting parents and teachers to help make the Internet a safer place for this first device-connected generation. We have a duty of care and we must be mindful of potential harm to impressionable minds.

Part of the answer lies in the actions industry can take, in collaboration with government. The UK industry has led the way in developing innovative technical solutions and tools for parents to help screen out harmful content, such as violence, hate, pornography, self-harm, and pro-anorexia content. The social media working group of the UK Child Council for Internet Safety has launched an expert guide for developers (by developers) to help make their applications and products safe by design.

But though technical solutions are a great tool, they can never be a silver bullet. Whatever solutions we put in place, we must be realistic and accept that our children will sometimes see things they should not see, and, sadly, some people will still find ways to hurt others online just as they do in the physical world.

Many parents are overwhelmed by the speed with which social media apps, games, mobiles and tablets are becoming central to their children's lives. We know from Ofcom's data that around two-thirds of parents say they talk to their child at least every few months about managing online risks. Nearly all parents of 3-4 year olds and more than four in five parents of 5-15 year olds say they supervise their child when online. Some parents turn their heads and hope everything will be okay, or may make a conscious decision to let their children explore unsupervised.

These are decisions for families to make, and no one is 'right' or 'wrong' - but whatever strategies are used, there will be moments when every parent will worry about the outcome. Families need support to tackle the complex questions and challenges that online life presents us with on a daily basis, to make fully informed choices.

That's why we've today published a guide ‪ for parents and carers with children who use social media. Social media is hugely popular with children and young people, as it is with adults. However, children will experience risks online - relating to what they might see or do, who they might meet, and how ‬this can affect them. The guide arms parents with practical tips about the use of safety and privacy features on apps and platforms, and conversation prompts to help families start talking about online safety. It also contains pointers to links where further advice and support is available.

As with some more traditional toys, children playing in virtual worlds require some degree of adult supervision if they are to play safely. I encourage parents to use the time over the Christmas period to explore some of these resources, and to talk to their kids about what they enjoy online, show an interest and learn and explore the Internet together.

Every young person wants a degree of freedom to explore and find their own way and we all have a role to play in ensuring they can do so safely, knowledgeably and fearlessly.