Every February over 1,000 organisations unite to celebrate Safer Internet Day to raise awareness of online safety issues and promote the safe and positive use of online technology and mobile phones for young people across the globe.
There's no doubt that the internet is an amazing piece of technology, a global network connecting millions and millions of computers. Over 200 countries are linked into exchanges of data, news and opinions, it's massive! So now, imagine letting your children lose in an environment where they can gain access to anything and everything, but equally strangers can delve into your child's personal information too! Where the lines of reality and fiction are obscured. Where cyberbullies roam and age-appropriate materials have an open access policy to anyone. Scary isn't it! That's why we need to bring ways to protect our children to the forefront, to raise awareness of any dangers they could be presented with and make their online experience as safe as we possibly can.
Parents fear increased online threat
Over the past few years, the anxiety levels of parents, teachers and children's organisations continues to rise when it comes to keeping youngsters safe online. 75% of parents feel that their children are more exposed to online threats than they were five years ago. Combine this with the fact that 79% of 5-16 year olds have access to a touchscreen tablet at home (per The Monitor Report 2017 by CHILDWISE), it becomes clear that child online safety is something that needs addressing. Children barely out of nappies are exposed to the web, whether it's through learning apps, music apps, TV shows, games or social media sites, so it's our responsibility to teach them from an early age and to make sure our children understand why and how to stay safe online.
Like riding a bicycle
Let's compare the internet to a bicycle. Would you present your child with a new bike, but refrain from explaining how to ride it, what the brakes are for, how to pedal, how to steer, how to be safe on the roads? Of course you wouldn't. You would take time to prepare and help them and spend hours building up their confidence, fit stabilisers, and drum safety rules into them. You would do anything in your power to keep them out of harm's way.
So I ask you, how is riding a bike any different from using the internet? We need to nurture our children, explain right from wrong, make them aware of the dangers lurking around every corner and to always think. Riding a bike safely requires both skill and judgement, once you've acquired that skill it's for life, but any talent needs to be practiced, honed and developed - just like surfing the internet. If a child is taught how to 'ride safe' from an early age, then these lessons can grow with experience to improve their abilities and enjoyment of the internet and allow us parents piece of mind. It all comes down to how we educate our children, we can do our best to safe guard them against the dangers in this world. Instead of wrapping them in a bubble, taking the time to explain the dos and don'ts is the way forward.
Start conversations early
The Children's Commissioner's report (Growing up Digital, 2017) emphasises that children accept parental intervention much more positively when they are younger. Thus, as children are interacting with tablets and smartphones from a young age, this is the time we need to start telling them about internet safety.
At Azoomee, our top priority is keeping children safe on the internet while also providing a platform for them to discover entertaining, age-appropriate content. This is why we worked with the NSPCC to produce the BAFTA-nominated TV series 'Search It Up'; a series of short, fun animations, which help educate children about internet safety.
Here are a few ideas to consider when speaking with children about the internet:
- Think twice Children often act on impulse and do not think about what they say, do or post on the internet. They must consider who will see it or what it might say about them.
- Protect yourself. It's important children understand that the internet is not the place to give away personal information and sensitive details. It's essential to keep their identity, location and personal life as private as possible online. In fact it's a good idea to explain to them what personal information is as most children will struggle with that concept to begin with.
- Stranger danger. It goes without saying that children should not speak to, or keep contact with, strangers online and should never meet with people they talk to online in person without a parent's approval and supervision. You wouldn't talk to a random stranger in the physical world, so avoid it in the digital realm too!
- Learn together. Parents can't monitor their child's online activity 24/7- it's impossible! But by setting aside some dedicated 'internet time' with your child, you can teach by example and answer any questions they have straight away, rather than leaving them to figure it out for themselves.
- Family fun. The internet is an amazing resource and provides a wealth of opportunity for both learning and having fun. To make sure the importance of being safe online sticks with your young ones, there has to be an element of fun as otherwise the message will get lost in translation.
Follow Estelle Lloyd on Twitter: www.twitter.com/azoomeekids