February 11th is Safer Internet Day and this year the theme is ‘Together for a better internet’. When you start thinking about it, the internet has become an ever-present tool within our homes. We’ve come a long way from simply being able to browse the web on a computer, filling our homes with smart TVs, speakers, doorbells, and, as reported in the news last year, fridges. The story of Dorothy, who desperately found herself tweeting by using her parents’ fridge, was picked up as a funny viral story, but it also raises questions about internet safety and how to ensure that the young people in our care stay safe online.
A recent Ofcom report conservatively estimated that 42% of 5-7 year olds have their own tablet, most mobile phones now have internet access, games consoles are designed to work best using remote play, and social media is an attractive distraction whose gates are locked by age verification. A Huffpost article published this month described a conversation where a 10 year old admitted that to access popular social media sites he would lie and say he was 15. His reasoning was that if he said he was 13, the required age, it would be too obvious a lie.
So, if we have to accept that the kids are going to be on the internet, what can we do to make sure that they stay safe as they surf?
Yes, it’s entirely likely that the younger members of your household know much more about the internet than you do but, in the internet’s case, ignorance isn’t bliss. Sit down and have regular conversations about what they are getting up to online. If they’re using apps like TikTok or Instagram, find out what they’re exploring and posting on those platforms. There’s a difference between snooping and being genuinely interested.
Showing an interest will also make it easier for young people to approach you if they feel that they might have a problem or are worried about something they’ve seen. The key is to be positive, but also open if you have concerns.
Safer Internet Day have created a range of free downloadable resources which includes a list of conversation starter ideas.
Creating a family contract about good practice on the internet allows the young people in your care to see adult best practice. This isn’t a contract about how long they spend online but how they behave online. Google lists a number of ideas on their Be Internet Awesome site which include thinking about the information you share online, avoiding scams and fakes, internet security, being kind online, and talking about things that might be questionable.
Google have even created their own pledge that you can print off and sign.
Doing your research is always useful and helps if a young person in your care ever does have a problem online. Knowing what to do and being able to advise instead of admonishing means they’ll be far more likely to come to speak to you about other things.
There are some fantastic resources available which provide excellent advice and interactive learning opportunities.
For younger children there is Google’s Interland game, an interactive adventure which takes the player through being kind online, spotting fakes, security, and privacy. Players can print off certificates as they complete each level (and the scoring adds some competition).
Childnet has a wealth of resources ranging from children’s stories about internet safety to useful and up to date information on how to deal with sexting. There’s also a specific section aimed at foster parents.
Thinkuknow is a website designed for all children and young people aged 4 and up. Split into different sections based on age groups, the content is specifically designed to be understandable. Additionally, once an age range has been chosen, the user can’t access any of the other content. This means that younger users are protected from the more adult advice aimed at teenagers.
The NSPCC has a site full of useful information for parents and carers providing advice on a range of topics from how to keep internet connected toys safe for your child to how to support a child who is watching porn online.
The Pixel Privacy website has a great range of resources for keeping young people safe online.
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