Raising children can suddenly make the world seem a frightening and dangerous place.
While you may have grown up wandering the streets or visiting friends or the shopping centre without telling your parents where you were going, giving your own children that kind of freedom is unthinkable for many parents today. In the age of smartphones, we’re accustomed to knowing where our kids are at all times.
But while smartphones can help keep your children safe by keeping them in constant contact, that technology can also put them in danger online.
Children and teens today are more tech-savvy than ever, having grown up with the technology we’ve seen evolve so quickly over time. But even when your kids have as much technical know-how as adults, they don’t yet have the experience and discernment necessary to keep them safe online.
No parent can monitor their children round the clock, and it may be tempting to take the easy way out and block access entirely. But the Internet is a valuable tool, more integral to our modern lives than ever, and necessary for children to learn to navigate safely.
While there are general guidelines to follow to keep your children safe online, many of them are common-sense and too general to help in many situations. Some of them are out of touch with modern technology, such as CEOP’s ‘Thinkuknow’ for Parents and Carers, which advises you to monitor your children’s email: most children today don’t communicate primarily through email anymore, or even through texts.
Instead, social media networks and smartphone apps are more popular for chatting and sharing multimedia online. Chances are your child is chatting with an app like Snapchat or Kick, or a social network like Ask.fm.
Snapchat is one of the most popular smartphone messaging apps being used by kids today: about a third of all teens in the United Kingdom use Snapchat, sending millions of photos and videos every day. With Snapchat, users can send their friends photos, videos, and screen captures, which are supposed to auto-destruct within a few seconds. But the images can easily be undeleted or screen captured on another device, leaving a permanent record of whatever images your child chooses to share.
Kik Messenger is another popular app among teens and young adults. It allows you to message others without giving out your phone number, making it popular for users who want to retain their anonymity. Just looking at the app reviews, it’s clear that Kik is very popular for sending explicit messages. The app itself is rated 17+ in the app store for “Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes,” but that doesn’t stop kids from downloading and using it.
Then there’s Ask.fm, a question-and-answer social networking website which has received a lot of press surrounding bullying issues and related suicides around the world. Users 13 and older are allowed, and there are no systems for monitoring content. Due to the lack of moderation and encouraged anonymity, the network has become a mecca for cyberbullying.
The school computer network blocks the use of these sites as they are not conducive to your child’s learning. We do this by using an internet filter system that we can control and set parameters for. We also run e-safety assemblies, cover these topics in class and provide lots of information, advice and guidance which pupils can access in the ‘pupil’ section of this website, however, the school has no way of controlling what your child has available to them on their smartphones or portable devices if they use their 3G or 4G phone network, therefore it is really important that you are aware of these things and help educate your child on how to stay safe and use their device appropriately.