As the gift season approaches and young people hope for new phones and other Internet accessing devices two Lancashire safeguarding experts tell Fiona Finch why it’s time for a rethink on just what we tell the children.
What should you do if your child or teenager is accessing unsuitable material on the Internet? Could they be sexting?
It’s a horrifying thought that your minor could be stumbling across or even seeking out or sending images and information which could be damaging them.
They could be bullied on line and they could be bullying someone on line.
The oft proffered advice is to slap on those parental controls and make your young computer, phone or tablet user access the internet in a public room where you can glance over their shoulder at regular intervals.
But according to the chair of the Lancashire Safeguarding Children Board we need to be acting differently, acknowledging that in fact the online world cannot be fenced off.
This “get real” message has come from Jane Booth, who, as the chair of the independent watchdog Board, is alert to risks and dangers for the county’s young people.
She said: “The message is the online world is a wonderful thing and can enhance everyone’s life. Let’s make the most of it by looking to manage it safely ... There will always be a technology ahead of us. It’s about helping young people to navigate safely.”
She added: “The emphasis is being able to talk to kids before there’s a problem.”
Her call is backed by Graham Lowe, the Board’s Online Safeguarding Adviser, who stressed: “The Internet brings lots of benefits but there are some potential dangers. It’s about building resilience to navigate safely. There are risks but there are positives. This is a children’s world ...it’s what they use.”
For a start it will help to set ground rules before youngsters start using new equipment and be aware that while you might install parental controls, they will access information outside the home too..
Comparing content filters to the use of speed bumps and zebra crossings on roads to raise awareness of and reduce traffic dangers he said : “We also need to educate children about what the dangers are on line. The analogy is that if you always hold a child’s hand when crossing a road some time they are going to have to do it without us. The online world is very similar.”
Graham knows many parents and carers do feel out of their depth: “The most common quote I hear from parents is the children know so much more about the technology than they do. There is a technical element to it. but it’s about the behaviours. It’s how children and young people use the technology - let you child be your teacher. Ask your child to explain it to you.”
It’s essential that young people are aware that if they get immersed in games and want to spend time playing online that’s where people who may want to harm them will go too. In a multi-player environment where people join in games on line they may not be whom they say they are.
When it comes to sex and religious education Graham says: “There’s a big impact on line. If children are not getting that information from anywhere else what they see on the Internet is what they think is the norm.”
Both Jane and Graham acknowledge that it’s known children and young people often ignore age limits on games and other materials. She notes particular areas of concern: “People are obviously very anxious about how to make sure their kids are safe.The one most people recognise on line is the potential for grooming children making them vulnerable to sexual abuse.”
Older pupils sexting - sending explicit photos of themselves over phone or other networks has also become an issue.
Jane said: “The issue around sexting is a national issue. ..There’s useful advice out there which we try and signpost.”
Youngsters indulging in sexting are, she says, “putting themselves at risk ...It’s where these images go to.”
There’s also the issue of whether these images will haunt you, hindering applications for higher and further education and jobs: “Increasingly are relying lesson references and looking at people’s social media profiles.”
But it should, says Jane, be remembered that research shows 70% of youngsters are not ending such images: “They all think everyone is but it’s not what kids do ordinarily.”
But - and it’s a big but - 99% of such images will get shared elsewhere.
Graham said: “Have a conversation. Keep the doors open. It’s being able to ask if a young person is worried about something.”
Both stress there is an armoury of weapons including the website preventforschools.org , a national resource which Graham maintains and updates and the online safeguarding section on the Lancashire Children Safeguarding Board’s own website.
The prevent site started as a joint project serving Lancashire, including the unitary council areas of Blackpool and Blackburn. It was set up in 2011/12 as part of a safeguarding schools initiative to help combat the growth of extremism and radicalisation.
This is accessed by schools all over the country and is, says Jane “a good indicator of schools taking responsibilities seriously.”
•For more guidance see www.lancashiresafeguarding.org.uk
An Online Safety event will be held at Woodlands Conference Centre, Chorley, on January 17, 2017 for those working with young people.
Top Tips For Internet Safety
If your youngsters seem permanently”connected” online and you don’t know where to start a conversation with them. heed these tips from the Lancashire Safeguarding Children Board.
1.Don’t be put off by technology - you have wisdom
2.Agree some ground rules about your expectations when they can go online and for how long
3.Talk to your child about the online world, what they like, what worries them and what to do if something goes wrong
4.Let your child teach you about the Internet and its new vocabulary
5.Consider parental controls - filters on the home Internet connection can screen inappropriate content
6.Don’t jump to conclusions -some sites may include clickbait content to generate advertising income; Also everyone can make mistakes
7.Ensure privacy settings are set up on apps/sites and gaming consoles. We all need to be careful what we share
8.Keep an open dialogue with your youngster - problems can go unreported if they fear losing access to treasured technologies
9.Don’t forget the positives - the internet provides immense opportunities and benefits
10 See the Lancashire Safeguarding Children Board’s web page on Online Safeguarding - access via www.lancashiresafeguarding.org.uk
There is also page on Staying SafeOnline with Pokémon GO at www.lancashiresafeguarding.org.uk/online-safeguarding/focus-on.aspx
The Board’s Satying Safe Online handout lists seven useful websites including www.internetmatters.org and www.saferinternet.org.uk