When did you last talk to your children about staying safe online? Was it as recently as this week? Or was it last month or even last year? In an online survey by the National Crime Agency (NCA) 15% of parents hadn’t talked to their children for at least six months and another 15% had never had the conversation at all.
I can remember the first online safety presentation I attended at my teens’ primary school over a decade ago. Since then there have been countless more throughout the secondary school years, reminding us as parents to stay alert, to continue to monitor our children’s online activity and not to sit back on our laurels and think “job done” because it is so easy to do just that isn’t it? The problem, however, is that whilst the digital world is advancing so rapidly so too is the resourcefulness of those whose intention is to harm our children.
Where there is a will there is a way and the threat of online sex offenders and their use of live streaming platforms to reach our children with a large number of comments in real time is increasing rapidly. Once on these platforms, offenders use a variety of techniques to convince young people they are their “secret” friends and then go on to manipulate them to do what they want.
Adequate parental controls on networks and electronic devices are a necessity in every household, but so too is talking to our children frequently about healthy relationships and staying safe online. It is great that our schools are doing what they can to educate our children about the dangers and the warning signs, but it is vital that we do the same and reinforce the messages at home, not just once but regularly.
With the Christmas holiday on the horizon and no doubt an increase in screen time among children nationwide, the NCA and National Police Chiefs’ Council are running a campaign to raise awareness among parents of the need to protect their children by talking to them about the kind of behaviour that could put them at risk.
A short animation narrated by a fictional character called Sam and released with the hashtag #WhoIsSam shows how offenders attempt to build relationships with young people online. It is powerful in its simplicity and to the point, just the kind of hard hitting message that is needed.
Despite my foray into blogging I am still not as technologically savvy as maybe I would like, so when it comes to online security in our house this is handled by my husband whose liberal use of filters has caused a few lively arguments with the teens in the past - not least when their internet access was blocked at 9pm and they still had homework to finish.
The chats on the other hand are my territory and, although with older teens there is generally a lot of eye-rolling alongside comments of “I’m not stupid mum!”, I am relentless with my questions and supervision of their online behaviour, preferring to always err on the side of caution.
“Knowledge is power” said Sir Francis Bacon and as parents we can never be short of information on how best to protect our children and particularly in this digital world where technology has crept into all our lives so rapidly.
New guidance for both parents and children on the risks posed by live streaming is available from the NCA CEOP’s educational website Thinkuknow. As someone who was previously unfamiliar with this site I can only say to all parents wanting to brush-up on their knowledge - do take a look for yourself as it is a truly valuable resource. Information for children is categorised by age from tots to teens and there is also a dedicated area for parents and carers with practical advice and tips on keeping our children safe online.
During a recent week police forces and the NCA arrested 192 offenders on suspicion of child sexual abuse offences.
As parents these figures act as a disturbing reminder that we need to be ever vigilant of the threats to our children and make sure we continue to keep on top of their online behaviour as well as keep our own knowledge up to date. Monitoring our children online is a necessity not an option.