Now that schools have broken up for the summer break, the NSPCC in Northern Ireland is urging children and young people to keep themselves safe when online.
With children’s access to the online world increasing all the time via greater access to mobile phones and tablets, the leading children’s charity is highlighting some of the pitfalls to parents – as well as where families can access safety advice.
Margaret Gallagher Local Campaigns Manager in Northern Ireland said:
“In the long summer months, the online world can provide many benefits for children. It gives them instant access to a world of information, reduces boredom and provides a connection to friends and family. However, it is not without risks, and often parents can find it hard to keep track of what their children are doing online.
“With the reduction of the use of desktop computers and the use of portable devices like tablets and smart phones growing steadily, parents may not know what their children are exposed to, because they can be in their bedrooms or out of the home.”
Although the minimum age for having a social media profile on most sites is 13, NSPCC research has shown that 92 percent of children and young people have accessed social media sites before this age. This leaves children potentially exposed to inappropriate content and, in extreme cases, can leave them vulnerable to abuse. Worryingly, PSNI figures show that over the last year (2016/2017) in Northern Ireland, there has been a 28% increase in cyber related sex crimes so it is more important than ever for parents to know what their children are doing online.
Margaret added: “Parents need to start conversations with their children about what they are viewing online, as early as possible. We have found that discussing this topic with your child and regularly talking to your child is the best way to keep them safe. Setting some boundaries about what they view online can create a good level of trust about this important issue in your family.
“If parents aren’t sure how to start the conversation, there are lots of online tools on the NSPCC website to give them the knowledge and confidence to talk about what can be an often overwhelming topic.”
The NSPCC has the following tips which can help start the conversation;
Have the conversation early and often – start talking to your children at an early age and keep talking as they get older and technology changes. Little and often is key, don’t try and cover too much at once.
Explore sites and apps together – this will give you a much better idea of what they are looking at and enable you to encourage and support them.
Know who your child is talking to online – there, children often don’t see people as strangers, but as online friends. Make sure you know who they are friends with online, and explain that it’s easy for people to lie about themselves.
Set some boundaries - set some rules, including when and where they can go online, what websites they can visit and how they share images.
Make sure the content is age appropriate - ensure your child is using sites right for their ages, and don’t feel pressured into signing up to websites they are too young for. The age limits are there for a reason.
Use parental controls - Set up parental controls to stop children from seeing unsuitable or harmful content online.
Check they know how to use privacy settings and reporting tools - check the privacy settings on accounts like Facebook, and remind children to keep any personal information safe and what to do if they see anything that upsets them
The NSPCC and O2 are also providing simple resources to help parents with online safety, including our innovative Net Aware tool, which gives information on content, privacy and age settings for more than 50 social media sites and is updated on an ongoing basis to keep pace with changes online.
Parents are also being encouraged to sign up to the free O2 Guru Service, where they can access online safety advice and get helpful tips to keep their child secure online, including parental controls. This service is free and available to people on any network or phone. Parents can also call the dedicated NSPCC online safety Helpline on 0808 800 5002.
For more information visit www.nspcc.org.uk/o2