The new NSPCC campaign, #ShareAware, has done what it set out to do, and got people talking about how we can keep children safe online. Whether you agree or not with the campaign’s shock tactics, with two prominent tv ads featuring a willy and some panda pants, at least it has brought the issues that have been simmering to the forefront of parents’ minds, and not before time.
Airing these issues is critical if we are all to understand the potential power of the online world to both damage and also to inspire our children.
The NSPCC campaign was backed by asking 500 parents (from family site Mumsnet) to review around 50 websites in order to determine how easy it was to find dodgy content and also how easy it was for children to sign up to sites which were restricted, or aimed at an adult-only audience. While not a scientific method, it has thrown up a rough guide as to what you might expect to see online, and even as a seasoned online person myself there were some sites I hadn’t heard of, others I quickly wished I hadn’t heard of, and which I sincerely hope my children do not discover.
The initial videos of the campaign are backed up with a comprehensive information site, NSPCC Netaware, which aims as much to educate us parents as it does to help us help our children – a great way of reaching for the oxygen mask first before assisting others who need help.
Education is the best protection
Our children have been born digital, and even before they were born some will have made their online as a socially-shared baby scan photo; all their lives they will have, if they choose to or not, an online profile as well as an offline one, and as they grow these two profiles will converge even more than they do today.
We may remember a world without Facebook, but many adults are still getting to grips with what the full impact of our online shadows and the damage they can do in terms of inappropriate or over-sharing, the legal impact of sharing the wrong thing to the wrong audience, and the dangers of humour when poorly shared and appreciated.
While the internet can be and will remain, an inspirational and amazing source of knowledge and creativity, it can also be a minefield of misunderstood rules just waiting to be broken. If we can’t work this out for ourselves and are continually learning from our mistakes as ‘online’ continues to change shape, we can’t expect our digital native children to do much better without some guidance.
The weakest defence is to disclaim responsibility, to say that the children know more than we do and we can’t possibly understand the technology as they do. Even if our children do have better technical skills, it is the emotional intelligence to deal with the consequences of their actions that will be lacking, and it is our job as parents to help develop this in them, even as we do this in other aspects of their lives.
What you can do to keep your children safe online
- Act as a role model. If you are on your phone from morning until bedtime, if you are addicted to social media and constantly connecting with friends rather than being in the room, you will generate this behaviour in your children. Stop it.Social media is a fantastic tool for many reasons, but your should be using it as a tool rather than it controlling you. If you are using social media sites or working online, talk to the children about what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how you are able to limit and control what you do and when you do it. If they see you always bent over your phone, they will want to do the same.
- Help your children to set reasonable boundaries. Get them to agree to specific timed sessions of activity, and encourage them to take regular breaks, explaining the health risks of spending all day online.It’s not easy, I hear you laughing, but it is essential for their health and well-being that you educate them on this.
- Help your children to become streetwise online. If your children are younger, show them how to search safely for content, to be aware of what they are doing online and where their curiosity might lead them. Set software restrictions if you feel it is necessary, but don’t rely on them. Older children might respond better to a simple open discussion about the online opportunities and threats.
- Take the time to understand what they are spending time doing online, encourage them to talk to you about it, and to be ready to ask you if there are things happening online that they are uncomfortable with.
- Accept that everyone will have different rules and standards, as with all other aspects of family life. Work with your children to make the right decisions about your own family boundaries, regardless of what other families do.
- Removing access altogether is not the answer. The internet in whatever shape or form is here to stay, the sooner your children can be shown how to use it responsibly, the more they will be ready with essential skills they will need for their future.How to communicate online, how to understand their own online brand, how to attract conversation, likes and follows, will all place them in a place not only of safety but also of future employability.
- If you are able to emphasise the positives as well as the risks, to outline basic rules restrictions and guidelines, and to demonstrate how to enjoy and make use of the internet safely, you will be doing a great job in educating your children to do the same.
Sites to use as a starting point
The following sites are packed full of information and help, do take the time to look at them and use as a starting point for further discussions with your children.
Share Aware from the NSPCC, with a great emphasis on how you can approach talking to your children.
Think You Know from CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre).
Get Safe Online is a public / private sector partnership supported by HM Government and leading organisations in banking, retail, internet security and other sectors.
Do you have any experience with having talked to your child, or any tips on you have handled difficult situations in the past? I would love to hear more in the comments below.