Technology is amazing. Children can play, learn, create and connect, opening up a whole world of exciting possibilities. Despite the great advantages of using mobile phones, it is very important to be aware of technology and internet safety. That’s because over the last few years, millions of electronic devices are connected to the internet. There are many ways to reduce the risks and protect children and young people while they use internet and mobile phones. Firstly, children should be educated about the use of technology and unfortunately internet safety rules can be annoying to hear at times. However, they are important in helping us.
Dr. Tanya Byron outlined in her 2008 Report ‘Safer children in a digital world’ that everyone has a role to play in empowering children and young people to stay safe while enjoying new technologies, just as it is everyone’s responsibility to keep children safe in the non-digital world.
Key points in the report are as follows:
• The safety of children should be a vital concern for parents and for the society;
• There are risks to children and young people of potentially harmful and inappropriate material;
• Efforts should be decisive in minimising the availability of harmful and inappropriate material in popular parts of the internet;
• Parents play a major role in overseeing children’s access to material on the internet;
• It is necessary that children and parents are provided with appropriate guidelines, clear standards, signposts and somewhere to go when things go wrong;
• Video games must now be clearly labelled with age ratings, which are represented by a logo on the back of the game that represents each age group;
• Computers that are sold for home use should be kitemarked with parental control measures;
• Schools should have an acceptable use policy in place (Ofsted can monitor this).
According to Byron (2008), along with technology a new sense of understanding and responsibility is needed in working together to help keep children and young people safe when using the internet and mobile phones. Byron (2008) classified the online risks to children in terms of content, contact and conduct.
The author classified three main objectives to achieve:
Objective 1: Reduce Availability – Reduce the availability of harmful and inappropriate content;
Objective 2: Restrict Access – Equip children and their parents to effectively manage access to harmful and inappropriate content;
Objective 3: Increase Resilience – Equip children to deal with the exposure to harmful and inappropriate content and equip parents to help their children deal with these things. Children and young people should be responsible in their online actions and treat others as they want them to be treated.
Through the right combination of successes against these three objectives: reducing availability, restricting access and increasing resilience to harmful and inappropriate material, we can manage the risks to children online. Below is a description of ways of reducing risks to children and young people from social networking, internet use, buying online and using a mobile phone.
New media forms such as social networking sites (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) allow users aged 13 and above to join. However, many children younger than 13, also have accounts, by giving out false birthdates. These are a place where young people can post private information that is accessible by others and this poses possible risks to young people. An account with a social network site gives a profile page, and interactive spaces where a community of friends and family can leave messages, photos and videos. In many ways, the page becomes like a notice board about the child. There are many benefits to social networking, however, these sites are often misused. According to Livingstone and Bober (2005), 46% of children have given out personal information to someone they met online. Key concerns are related to the ability to publish personal information online. We need to take an interest on what children do on the social networking websites and we should be clear about the kind of personal information that children and young adults should not share over the internet or on their mobile phones including name, address, telephone numbers and emails. Practitioners and parents should explain what to do when strangers approach them while they are online.
Adults need to talk to children and young people about unknown people who represent themselves falsely within the virtual world (e.g. online predators pretending to be children). Children need to be aware that some people create a false identity in order to use a false profile on social networking sites which will allow them to change their representations of themselves online. In order to reduce the risks related to “grooming” practices, adults can use control systems that are built into Windows 10 or Windows 7 or download it free from sites such as Windows Live Family Safety Settings. These systems are able to restrict access to social networking sites. Children should seek parental approval before adding contacts on email, social networking sites and instant messaging. Most social networking sites have age limits, so we need to make sure they adhere to this. As children become older, adults should help them to find sites that are well-monitored and are especially for children. Adults need to monitor which social networking sites children are visiting and which personal information they are sharing (e.g. passwords should never be shared even with their friends). We must make sure that young children are aware of the possible danger of being contacted by strangers or people they do not know: children need to know that in case of inappropriate contact they should always talk to adults.
The internet is a vast many-to-many network which allows users to communicate freely with others all over the world. One consequence of this is that there is no editorial control on information published online and there are many risks associated with inappropriate and harmful content. For this reason, we need enough protective mechanisms in place to support safe internet use and targeted approaches to helping children and vulnerable people.
A good way to teach internet safety rules to children is to introduce the S.M.A.R.T. rules. The acronym ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ stands for Safe, Meetings, Accepting, Reliable and Tell. It’s very easy and there are simple steps to remember on how to stay safe. The 5 rules are the fundamentals children and young people need to keep in mind while online.
1. S-Safe: Keep safe by being careful not to give out personal information when children are chatting or posting something online. Personal information includes email and home address, phone number and password.
2. M-Meeting: Meeting with someone who children have only been in touch with online can be dangerous. Only do so with parents’ or carers’ permission and even then, only when they can be present. Online friends can still be dangerous even if children or young people have been taking to them for a very long time.
3. A-Accepting: Accepting email, photos, files, video clips or texts from people children don’t know, or trust can lead to a variety of problems; they may contain viruses or offensive messages.
4. R-Reliable: Strangers and people children don’t know, online may lie about who they are, and information such as pictures on the internet may not be true. Children and young people shouldn’t trust everything they see online as some things can be out of date, inaccurate or not entirely true. To find reliable information is better compare at least three different websites, check in books and talk to someone about what they have found.
5. T-Tell: If someone or something makes children confused, upset or uncomfortable, they should immediately tell the reason of concern to their parents, carers or to another trusted adult of their choice. This rule applies also in case of cyber-bullying.
Parents and practitioners should talk often to children and young adults about the risks of the internet use. The most important online safety strategy, regardless of the technology involved, is to maintain an open dialogue with them about their digital lives. Adults need to set ground rules of surfing online and encourage children/young people to be aware of the risks of the internet, helping them have self-protection strategies should they encounter problems.
Some material on the internet, such as extreme pornography, child abuse images, material inciting racial hatred is clearly illegal in the UK. For such material, there is a strong case for it to be blocked by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) at a ‘network level’ using the Internet Watch Foundation’s list, so that when a user tries to access a website with these contents, they are immediately blocked from doing so. In the UK, at least one ISP offers users the option of connection to the internet which blocks material that is unsuitable for children to access. Some people have suggested that this approach should be extended to all ISPs in the UK. Users aged 18 and over would have to opt out of such a system in case they want to receive un-filtered access to the internet from their ISP. Proponents of extending network level blocking point to the fact that it does not rely on families to set up their own filtering software, and that, unlike filtering software on the user’s computer, it cannot be disabled by technologically advanced children. However, there is not a clear definition of “inappropriate content”. There is a social consensus that explicit pornography and violent material are not suitable for children; however, there is no such consensus about material such as non-pornographic nudity, violence or death in an educational context (such as information about wars). Parents and carers should specify the types of content (sexual images, violence, swearing, etc.) they don’t want their children to see. The filter will prevent users from accessing such sites blocking most inappropriate material, allowing children to use the internet freely without encountering inappropriate content. Parents/carers can also monitor records of children’s usage (sites visited, downloads, webcam usage, contacts added, instant messenger conversations). They should allow children to use browsers that are specially designed for child/young person’s (for example, Surf safely, Yahoo’s for kids and Ask Jeeves kids), and limit the amount of time the child/young person spends online.
According to Byron (2008), children’s bedrooms are increasingly becoming multi-media centres with television, webcams, and/or game consoles, and the number of these technologies into their bedrooms increases with age. Parents should place the computer in a main room where they can supervise and support them whilst they are using it online.
Furthermore, a child or a young person may unknowingly download viruses and malwares; these are programmes that can attach themselves to other legitimate programmes or documents in order to execute their codes. A virus can be opened through a spam email and has the potential to damage the computer or create files generating automatic unwanted behaviour into the computer.
To reduce the risks when buying online, young people should always use secure and trusted sites that have “hppts://” in the address bar as identity theft is a common problem. Unfortunately, despite using trusted websites, there is a high risk of others hacking into computer to get another user’s identity. This can be minimised by a firewall which can help by preventing hackers or malicious software from gaining access to private information. However, despite the use of a firewall there is the growing problem of young people falling victim to money laundering scams via popular social media sites. For example, criminals use these sites to advertise the so-called “cash flips”, where young people get paid to allow their bank accounts to be used for illicit purposes. In the first half of 2017 this type of activity doubled amongst account holders under the age of 21 (Policy Network Report, commissioned by NatWest in 2017). In fact, credit card details can be easily stolen if they are used on a non-secure site; however, fraud can be prevented by using a secure payment system (PayPal), which should enable young people to buy from multi online shops and pay using one account set up by PayPal. By doing this, the money is only exchanged through the purchaser and PayPal (the user pays PayPal and PayPal pays the online company). A PayPal account is set up and verified by PayPal. In order to avoid fraud incidents, adults can create long passwords with complicated combinations of letters and numbers, using lower and upper case and changing them as frequently as possible.
Using a mobile phone
Increasingly, children have mobile phones which allow them to access the internet, play video games and send text messages. The term “mobile phone” primarily refers to smartphones of course, since they bring internet access and its associated dangers. As more and more children and young people are using mobile phones to communicate with their friends, the risk of misuse becomes higher. First, there may be long-term dangers, especially amongst young children, from the use of mobile phones. These can be simply reduced by using landline phones, hands free, loud speakers or blue tooth.
But after all, the smartphone represents the key to unrestricted access to the internet and the many dangers come with it. To reduce these risks, mobile phone retailers now market their phones with filtering software, which can automatically stop children and young people from accessing inappropriate websites or images. Mobile operators take safety issues very seriously, and there are is a large number of pan-European and international initiatives to make mobile use safer for children and young people. These predominantly focus on raising awareness and self-regulation within the industry. Mobile operators are also providing an increasing range of tools to help parents and carers manage their children’s mobile phone use. These may be features of the handsets themselves (today there are many handsets on the market that are specifically designed for young users), or may be applied to the account, such as parental control filters. Such content restrictions are typically set to the highest level of protection by default.
It is important that adults remind children and young people that they should never give out their mobile number to strangers, and that they should also avoid using phones on public transport (tubes and buses), for the risk of being attacked and have the phone stolen. Young people also use mobile phones to send images of themselves to their friends or upload them on the internet. Once an image has been published, then the sender has lost the power as to what happens to that image; this means that it may be used in different contexts by unknown people or organisations.
In conclusion, I would like to briefly analyse the importance of educational settings when comes to stay safe online. Schools and children’s services have indeed the potential to deliver e-safety support to all children, including those who do not receive it at home. Under the Every Child Matters agenda, schools are encouraged to take a comprehensive view of the child embracing e-safety as part of their wider role in equipping children with the life skills they need to stay safe, not only in the “real world” but also in the “virtual world”. Every educational setting should have a clear e-policy containing exhaustive information about internet usage. Teaching and non-teaching school staff need to be equipped, not only to integrate new technology within the classroom, but to do so safely, in a way that empowers children to manage the risks. A good e-policy should state about the use of filter settings for which only certain websites are allowed to be accessed. Children and young people need to be supervised whilst using the computers and should only be able to access windows tools, such as Paint and Word, and the relevant websites that might help with learning and development. Chatrooms and instant messaging online should be forbidden by locking off ‘chat functions’.
Information workshops, talks and presentations about e-safety should also be available for parents to attend. An annual e-safety week would be a useful vehicle around which awareness could be reinvigorated with the opportunity to highlight specific issues.