Alastair Graham, CEO of AgeChecked, a provider of online solutions to retailers of age-restricted goods and services writes for younglondonist.com
For any parent, keeping their children safe is a top priority. However, the growth of the Internet has made this fundamentally more challenging.
Children can now easily access the Internet through games consoles and mobile devices, with a recent report even finding that 25% of children under six already own their own mobile. This has opened up a new avenue through which criminals can target vulnerable young people.
We can’t turn the clock back on technology, so how can worried parents maintain supervisory control over their children’s online activities?
- Perhaps most importantly, parents could start to make themselves familiar with potential online threats before teaching their children about where dangers may lie. There are a number of online resources that can help with this. The NSPCC runs free online training courses and a helpline to advise parents on how to keep their children safe and monitor what they are accessing online. Additionally, there is lots of helpful advice on offer from public service websites such as GetSafeOnline.
- A range of apps and software can help to support parents to tackle online dangers. Apple’s Screen Time provides parents with tracking on all the apps that children use across all iOS devices. Parents can receive detailed activity reports on each app and time restrictions can be set to curb time spent on them. This also provides web filtering, age restriction and app blocking capability. Google’s Digital Wellbeing app also includes a pie chart showing parents how a phone is used, an app timer to limit the time spent on them and a ‘wind down’ feature which works by shifting the phone screen to greyscale at a specified time. This is in addition to Family Link which helps parents control their children’s use of Android.
- Parents could also set screen time boundaries. Not only can this be positive for children’s physical wellbeing – with many studies highlighting the beneficial impact that reducing screen time has on important factors such as sleep quality – but for their mental health, too. If children are keen to spend numerous consecutive hours online, parents may want to ask why – opening up further conversation about their activity in general.
- We recently found that the main worry for the majority (71%) of parents is that they don’t know what their children are doing on social media. There are numerous safety features on sites such as Facebook that parents can easily set up via the privacy settings – such as disabling location tagging and blocking all but “friends” from viewing or accessing children’s information. It’s also advisable that parents log in to their child’s social media accounts at regular intervals, to check who they are interacting with via these channels.
- There is a natural tendency to shield children from issues that might cause distress, but unfortunately in some cases youngsters will inevitably come into contact with harmful content. Therefore, it is advisable to give children the information they need to be safe, whilst helping them to understand the importance of creating boundaries for themselves. To achieve this, parents could discuss these dangers with their children as soon as they become aware of them. In doing so, youngsters will be more equipped and empowered to identify this sort of content as dangerous and ultimately avoid it.
Creating a safer online environment for young people is not solely the remit of parents. Responsibility also lies with website owners and online vendors. The UK is currently leading the way by introducing legislation – such as the Digital Economy Act and the ICO’s online child safety guidelines- across a number of industries to prevent and manage underage access to inappropriate content.
This will result in website visitors having to prove their age via age verification tools before they can access adult websites, meaning that site owners will be legally required to install age-verification controls by the time the law is implemented.
However, we must always strive to do more if we are to keep our kids safe online in this rapidly-evolving technological landscape.