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Internet Safety guidelines to share with teens and children

Internet Safety
Mark Kingham Mark Kingham

The Internet has brought a host of new opportunities for exploration and communication.  Children constantly seek out entertaining ways of escapism, as well as connecting with like-minded individuals, learning new skills and showcasing their creativity.  However, as the Internet becomes ever more widespread among children, the issue of e-Safety becomes ever more important.

The answer to keeping them safe is not to stop children and young adults from accessing the Internet on mobiles or tablets. Talking to them about their online behaviour –  the sites they visit, and what they enjoy most – helps develop an open dialogue. It also encourages them to approach you about anything on the Internet that makes them uncomfortable. Such conversations should be light and occur regularly to help them understand better.

  1. Ask them to involve you in their online activities

As you would ask your child to show you their favourite toy, book or a game offline, ask them to show you what they like doing online. Have a genuine interest in what your child likes as this will help them open up to you more about the kind of activities they engage in online.

Remember, however, that youngsters may get defensive about involving you in their online activities. They may even assume you to be an overbearing parent or teacher. Keep a relaxed approach and flexible boundaries to show you support them and have their best interests at heart.

  1. Warn them about strangers

Children do not consider online friend requests from strangers as unusual. For youngsters, such requests are a means to increase their followers or friends’ list. By explaining to them that it is easy for people to provide false information online, you, as a parent or teacher, can help them equate online and offline situations, where a stranger would actually approach them and ask nosy questions or try to befriend them.

A research study found that children had difficulty in applying the safety principles consistently across platforms, though they could repeat everything that they had learned. It also stated that many children failed to understand the reasons behind such measures. This was because parents felt they were too young to know about the nature of risks involved.

Thus, it is necessary to educate them about the “hows” and “whys” of Internet safety.

  1. Ensure age appropriate content

Many websites, social networks, and games have an age rating. Such ratings are in place to keep children safe. Don’t let them sign up for websites or games for which they may be under age or may involve in-game purchases. According to an article by Parent Zone UK, in-game purchases may lead to online gambling among young adults, leading to addictive behaviours.

  1. Agree upon acceptable norms of online behaviour

There has been a shift in the devices used for accessing the Internet, according to a 2016 study. Children and youngsters use mobiles more often to go online. As the Internet can be accessed away from home as well, it is important to discuss with your child what is and what is not allowed to be accessed online. Helping them understand what is and is not suitable will work better than just forcing your views on them.

  1. Educate them on privacy settings and reporting tools

Many gaming sites and social network websites have privacy settings and reporting tools. Educate them on how to keep their personal information private across all platforms. Emphasise that it is not necessary to provide all the information asked for. Explain what they should do if they receive messages that upset or frighten them, or if they come across content they find disturbing or worrisome.

  1. Encourage evaluation of online information

In 2015, a study found that the majority of the children and youngsters thought that all information available online was always true. As a parent or a teacher, it is important to educate them in verifying information by comparing it with other sources. Encourage them to refer to a library to get relevant and trusted sites for their studies.

Children and young adults need to exercise a certain level of alertness and judgement when accessing online content. Reach out to us to learn more about safeguarding children online.

Building online resilience

online resilience
Greg Johnson Greg Johnson

The Internet has conquered and penetrated young people’s world by many different routes. There is no doubt about that. But, how much is too much when it comes to using the internet? Particularly today, when, according to an Ecorys and YoungMinds report, one in three Internet users globally are under the age of 18. Furthermore, the report revealed that it is not enough to impose restrictions or ban the internet for young people – rather, we need to look at long-lasting solutions. For instance, help them build online resilience, so they can reap the benefits of the online world.

“As I got towards my teenage years, when I started to get social media accounts, people used to call me names online, comment on my pictures, share content without my knowledge, tag me in inappropriate pictures, and use really hateful terms. You shouldn’t have to hide who you are online, and you shouldn’t have to suffer in silence. We need to tackle hate and encourage young people to be positive and help each other online.” Tamanna Miah, 19, experienced cyberbullying as a teenager and is now an activist for YoungMinds.

The report,  entitled ‘Resilience for the Digital World’ highlighted the importance of building young people’s “digital resilience,” rather than solely focusing on protecting them from risky content online. The report also calls for a new approach to ensure that the online world does not damage our youngsters’ mental health.

Sarah Brennan, Chief Executive of YoungMinds said: “Our research shows that children and young people understand the online world a lot better than most adults. It’s important to encourage children to stay safe, but we should also encourage them to create positive content, to offer support to others who are struggling, to build empathy and responsibility, to identify and deal with challenging content, and to explore how to balance their lives, online and offline.”

Laurie Day, Director of Children at Ecorys, said: “The research aimed to draw together what we know about the digital aspects of children and young people’s social and emotional wellbeing, and to consider the risks and opportunities they encounter within their everyday lives.”

How can you help build resilience online for young people?

  • Every school must plan and take action regarding how they help children develop digital resilience, and embed this in their E-safety curriculum.
  • All students in schools should have engaging, accessible and age-appropriate information available about mental health, especially on the sites they use. This will act as a helpful guide if students are struggling with addiction or any other mental health problems.
  • Company websites must take responsibility to support young people who may be suffering from social media addiction – by providing pop-ups that direct them to resources and support.
  • Teachers, parents and professionals working in child and adolescent mental health services need to understand youngsters’ experience of the online world and help them build their digital resilience.
  • Another way to monitor children’s digital footprint is to utilise e-Safety solutions for your school. Securus Software has been instrumental in safeguarding students online – our solutions are a simple and cost-effective approach to ensuring acceptable use of internet and email.

How are young people using the Internet?

Mark Kingham Mark Kingham

According to a report by Young Minds, the increasing availability of smartphones and tablets has made it really easy for children to access social media and the Internet in general. Half of all 9-16 year olds in Europe own a smartphone and many children can access the internet through their games console.

Furthermore, the report indicates that the vast majority of 9-16 year olds go online at least once a week, and the majority on a daily basis.

The report highlights some interesting statistics about young people’s internet use:

  • An estimated one in three of all Internet users in today’s world are below the age of 18.
  • Four in five of young adults, aged between 16-24 years, believe that digital technology plays a positive role in their relationships.
  • One in ten children and young people who have a diagnosable mental health condition go online to research more about their condition, and to reach out to their peers for mutual support.
  • One in five have shared personal information and photos with someone they only knew online.

The report gives useful insights into why young people use the Internet and, contrary to popular belief, the reasons go much deeper than a superficial need to be validated by peers or be ‘popular’. For young people today, forming bonds with people on the internet, and particularly social media platforms, has a lot to do with escaping family troubles or school pressures.

Traditionally, people sought a sense of belonging among their friends, family, neighbourhoods or communities. But in today’s fast paced world, we turn more often to social media and digital technology to find like-minded individuals or online communities that share our interests and beliefs. This is true for children and youngsters as well – they are much more likely to turn to the Internet to share difficult life experiences or get advice on sensitive issues.

According to an article in The Guardian, a recent Espad survey found that European teenagers use the internet on average 5.8 days a week and that girls (83%) use social media more regularly than boys (73%). Also, the research found that online gaming is far more prevalent among boys (39%) than among girls (7%).

One research study surveyed 12- to 17-year-old internet users, to examine teenage behaviour online, and found that the most popular online activities are seeking out information on search engines. The study also found that 80% went online to use social media, and seven out of ten use the internet to listen to music.

Other common online activities included – making friends, ‘hanging out’ with friends and sharing personal experiences. With the rise in popularity of Instagram and Snapchat, photos and videos are increasingly becoming the preferred way to connect with others online.

If you are worried about the kind of content your children are accessing online, read this blog for some helpful tips – How can I ensure my child accesses online content safely?

To learn more about e-Safety or safeguarding children join the conversation on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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