Today is Internet Safety Day and this, once again, has made me think about how safe my children are online.
It’s all too easy to forget about the activity which goes on once the bedroom door has swung shut, when my boys are quietly engrossed in gaming, social media and browsing.
Its important to clarify at this point that I think the internet a brilliant invention – I can’t actually imagine life without it now, but when I consider how much has changed in such a short space of time, it does make me wonder how this will change society.
How will things look in twenty years time when our digital native kids, who’ve never known a world without the internet or social media have grown?
To coincide with today’s date a survey from CBBC’s Newsround claims that more than three-quarters of children aged 10 to 12 in the UK have social media accounts, even though they are below the age limit.
There’s currently a lot of debate around what age children should be when they sign up to social media accounts and currently there’s little consistency amongst the key players.
What we can all be sure of is that nearly all the young people in this country will be signed up to one or two of the main social media sites at some point in their youth.
A case in point the research concluded that among 13- to 18-year-olds, 96% were signed up to social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Whatsapp.
Among under-13s, 78% were using at least one social media network.
No matter what the policy, currently there’s very little to stop children lying about their age and very little attempt by the companies to police the fake ID’s.
As such while there appears to be a blind spot in term of regulation it really does fall to the parents to keep an eye out for their children. This is something which quite understandably leaves many parents feeling overwhelmed. For a generation who never grew up with such tools, myself included, how are we to manage this new, all encompassing creature?
Using common sense creating a better level of awareness amongst the younger generation of the pitfalls and potential dangers of the internet and social media is a good start. Likewise encouraging them to talk to parents about their online activity can provide them with an important safety net.
They may be able to pin, post, tweet and chat better than us but we’ve been young before, can understand the insecurities, the pressures and anxiety many young people experience.
What’s crucial is to help children understand that what they post should be a reflection of what they would say to someone if they were standing in front of them – not something they’re thinking.
This is a really important distinction to make, imagine a world where people spoke their private thoughts audibly every day?!
Thinking about what you say so it’s not unkind or offensive should be a basic thought process children go through before they post anything online.
Reinforcing this The Safer Internet Day who has also commissioned its own survey of 13 to 18 year olds has found that more than four in five had seen “online hate”, such as offensive or threatening language. Likewise social media has proven to be an effective weapon for many in spreading malicious gossip or photographs intended to offend and upset people.
Whilst the social media giants have established mechanisms for reporting inappropriate or disturbing posts they can only react after the event which makes it even more important that children are being given guidance about how they use the internet to get the most out of it.
So whilst your child’s phone may be a closely guarded secret that you can’t lay your hands on, try and talk to them about what they’re posting and what social media they like the most and why.
If you can open conversation about their social media world they may be more likely to come to you when and if something does go wrong.