Internet Safety – Why it Matters and How to Protect Your Children

Did you know that 57% of 9-19 yr olds have accidentally come into contact with pornography on the internet?

Or that one third of children in the same age range have received nasty comments, or those of a sexual nature online? In addition, the NSPCC says that almost a quarter of 11 and 12 year-olds with a social networking profile experienced something online that upset them in the last year (source).

In contrast only 7% of parents believe that their child has actually received such comments, or come into contact with age inappropriate material.

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Did you know that 40% of children aged 9-19 trust most of the information they come across on the internet? Which is alarming considering that 73% of online adverts are not clearly labelled as such, making it difficult for children to recognise them.(source: http://www.thinkuknow.com/)

Alarming statistics, especially when you consider that almost half of all teenagers now own a smart phone and a quarter of them are online “almost constantly” (source PEW survey). Ten to fifteen years ago, when all children had was access to the family’s shared desktop PC with a slow dial-up connection internet safety was not so much of an issue. Now with our ‘on tap internet’ and sea of ‘smart’ devices it is a burning and very dangerous issue that alarmingly is often overlooked by most parents.

Many parents are concerned about where their child is going and who they are going with. We worry about paedophiles, abductions and attacks while our children are out on the streets alone, yet we neglect to consider the very real risk posed by their online activity, which is usually far more dangerous than anything they will come into contact with in ‘the real world’.

Nobody, however old, can escape the problems that the internet brings. What is important to understand however is that children do not have the same filters and instincts that we possess as adults. Your new teen may appear ‘grown up’ to you, but he or she is still highly vulnerable when it comes to online activity. Children (even teenagers) have different brains to adults, their skills of rationalising, hypothesising and controlling impulses are incredibly underdeveloped leaving them vulnerable and open to attack and manipulation. In comparison to adults, children (even teenagers) are not wired to cope as well with the repercussions of their online activity as adults.

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What risks may your child experience online?

  • Cyberbullying (from those they know in real life, or complete strangers)

  • Discovering inappropriate content, such as pornography, violent or extremist sites

  • Making themselves vulnerable to ‘grooming’ from paedophiles

  • Giving out personal contact information, making them easy to find

  • Aggressive marketing messages, which are difficult to distinguish from reality

  • Unhealthy information, such as sites encouraging eating disorders and self harm

  • Viruses and spyware

  • ‘Phishing’ for access to personal and financial information

  • Sharing personal photographs (particularly provocative ones) that can circulate widely

The risks of these are very real. Cyberbullying in particular is something that we never experienced as children. There was no Facebook, no Instagram, no Snapchat or the like. No permanent reminder of our mistakes years after they happened. Imagine growing up with every facet of your life being recorded online. Imagine the possibility of your most private and confidential discussions and photos being shared with your whole class, or even school. This is a real risk for children growing up in the digital age. They not only have to deal with classroom taunts, but those online which often reach far, far more children. Our children may not only be the victim of cyberbullying though, sometimes they are at risk of being on the other end – the bully. A comment on a social network can be taken out of context and shared widely. Children need to understand the repercussions and the lack of privacy in their online social lives and should know how to use it both wisely and safely. For more on cyberbullying visit this fantastic site.

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The risks don’t end there though. There is a mounting body of evidence to show that children today are risking their health through their ever-growing usage of the internet. Too much time online has been linked with growing levels of obesity and inactivity, which can put children at greater risk of several diseases including diabetes and cancer. When it comes to sleep it is vital that parents understand the negative impact of screens upon health. All screens emit light on the white and blue wavelength spectrum. A type of light that fools the brain into perceiving it to be daytime. This artificial light triggers the pineal gland to secrete cortisol. A hormone that is necessary for us to be awake and alert. In turn this inhibits the secretion of melatonin, the hormone of sleep. The simple act of using a screen, a phone, tablet, laptop or games console, in the evening can significantly inhibit sleep. This is something I have written about at length in my sleep book, ‘The Gentle Sleep Book.

Research has consistently shown that children of all ages fall asleep later if they have had significant engagement in screen time in the two hours prior to bedtime. This lack of sleep can, and does, have dire consequences. Including anxiety, depression, weight gain, lowered immunity and lowered cognitive ability which can lead to poor school performance. Experts advise that older children need between 7 and 9 hours sleep every night in order to function optimally in body and mind. Many teens today are getting far less than this, the majority due to too much screen time in the evenings.

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How Can We Help our Teens to Have Good Screen Hygiene?

  • Set strict boundaries on screen time. In our house my children only have access to games consoles for 2 hours per day on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All other days are banned

  • Have a screen ‘cut off’ time. In our house it’s 7pm. Allowing 2 hours of screen free time before bed.

  • Have a screen ‘check in’ routine. Each evening my children have to check in their phones, tablets and consoles with me before going to bed. Their rooms are (and always will be, despite their protestations!) ‘screen free zones’.

  • Have screen free meal times. No screens are welcome at breakfast, lunch and dinner, whether at home or out of the house.

  • Have regular screen free family days or activities. This is important with the summer holidays coming up.

  • Set a good example yourself. You can’t expect your children to have good screen hygiene if you are permanently attached to your phone. The rules need to apply to everybody in the house.

  • Encourage netiquette. Help children to understand how to respond politely and appropriately online and to understand the consequences of their actions.

  • Make sure they know how to report and block somebody on social networks and ensure that they always feel able to talk to you about something that has bothered them, without judgement from you and stick to the minimum age recommendations for social networking sites, they are there for a reason.

  • Explain the risks to your children. They should fully understand the risks of internet usage and the effects screens have upon their body. When children understand your concerns they are usually much happier to accept boundaries

  • Stay firm. It is likely your children won’t like your screen time boundaries, don’t be tempted to relax them to get some peace and quiet. Consistency is important.

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How Can we Protect Our Children?

Perhaps the most important thing parents can do to protect their children in terms of e-safety is to fully understand the risks. Taking time to educate yourself in all of the risks is vital. Taking time to understand the sites, especially social networks, your child uses is important too.

For computers and tablets in the home make sure you have good parental controls in place. Most suppliers have packages that you can use to ensure you have some control of devices connected to your wifi network. In my family we have strict filters in place that block sites that may contain inappropriate content. We also block other sites such as you Tube. We also have timing settings in place from 10pm to 7am to ensure that our children cannot get online overnight.

Protecting children on smart phones is a little harder however. In the age of smart phones and tablets (effectively mini-computers that can be used anywhere) most parents find it a real challenge to not only educate their children in doing the right thing, but monitor and control their online behaviour. For those of you whose children use Apple products, I was recently contacted by Intego to discuss their new product Family Protector, which gives parents control of the iOS mobile devices in their household.

Family Protector was built around the premise that busy parents trust their children and want them to remain safe while connected to the Internet. Unlike many other parental control products, Family Protector does not require your family’s devices to be Jailbroken (this not only opens your phone to malware, it also voids your warranty and prevents you from being able to update your iOS when new software is released.). It also does not require all your personal traffic be routed through a private third-party service, nor are you required to disclose your iCloud account information. Family Protector also offers some unique features including age-based restrictions, as well as the ability to send enforceable text messaging that require a response before the device can be used.

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The Intego Family Protector also offers the following:

  • Safe search web browser.

  • Enable safe browsing that’s age-appropriate for the child and ensure their time spent online is time well spent.

  • Limits their access to age appropriate music, movies and books to make sure what they’re listening to, watching or reading is suitable for their age.

  • Notifications and alerts 

  • Receive notifications in the management app if the child tries to access a blocked website or app, reinstall a forbidden app, or removes Family Protector from their device. You can get notifications on your management device and all alerts will be posted in the Alerts section where you can review them. Alerts are not deletable.

  • Block app and in-app purchases 

  • Stop the children from unknowingly racking up charges to the parent’s iTunes account, whether it’s buying apps or making in-app purchases.

  • Block or allow certain websites 

  • Monitor what the children views online and actively block or allow certain sites to ensure the child’s online experience is age appropriate.

  • Block their access to the camera and FaceTime 

  • Ensure children aren’t using the camera or video chat at night or other unnecessary times by scheduling time when access is disabled.

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How to Buy Intego Family Protector

You must first create an account to purchase Family Protector at fp.intego.com/register. Currently, subscription purchase is only available within the web admin. It can be accessed in Settings under My Account. You can choose a monthly or yearly subscription. And it’s not yet sold through the iOS or Android apps. It costs £4.50 per month, but there is a 14 day free trial.

I was really impressed with the product and the unique safety features it gives to parents. I must admit before writing this post I didn’t realise how vulnerable teenagers could be when it came to smart phones and how little effective protection there was. Now I know better, which is scary, but it’s good to know that there are products out there that can help to keep our children safe.

Note: This post was sponsored by Intego, but I have retained full editorial integrity.

Sarah

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About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
This entry was posted in Teens, Tweens and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Internet Safety – Why it Matters and How to Protect Your Children

  1. Celine says:

    I’ve only just found your post, can’t believe I’m the first to comment.
    I think the subject is of utmost importance. Too many parents of teens today seem oblivious to the dangers of the Internet for their kids (my own relatives who’ve got teenage kids certainly are). I’m really concerned when I see their kids post pictures of themselves that they share with everyone, not their friends only, and that could end up in the hands of ill-intentioned people, but also potential employers for the future.
    I’ve heard from another blogger that one teacher once collected some Facebook pictures of her own students that she had access to without being friends with them and turned the whole thing into a presentation in class to show them what everyone could see online. It might seem a bit cruel but at least the students got the message that they needed to make their personal pictures private if they didn’t want sexual predators and future employers to see them.
    It’s really easy to underestimate the risks of having a public online profile, on Facebook or the like. I’m the first to admit than 15 odd years ago, as a teenager, I would never have given my school bullies my e-mail address, phone number or any pictures of me. However, had Facebook existed and been widely used among people my age, I am not sure I would have thought of making my pictures private and only allowed my own friends to send me messages before any damage could be done.

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