Online safety for children and young people is more pertinent than ever and is increasingly becoming a minefield for parents and guardians. A former sexual health worker, who exposed the Rochdale child-abuse scandal, has teamed up with a tech expert, to offer top tips for parents to collaborate with children, to enjoy the online experience and offer peace of mind.
Sara Rowbotham, the Rochdale whistleblower and Matt Haworth, the co-founder of Reason Digital, a tech social enterprise which works with children’s charities, have developed guidelines for parents and guardians to safeguard children in the digital age.
Top tips for parents and guardians:
- Get to know your own privacy settings on social media. Most social platforms have guides, videos and walkthroughs. That way you can talk confidently about it and educate your child to share safely
- Help your child with the skills to understand and manage risk online. You may have talked to your child about the dangers of interacting with strangers when playing outside and what to do if approached. Apply this to the online community too
- Listen to your child to understand their everyday pressures. The challenges and pains they experience may mirror your own childhood, but are received online and could be more frequent
- Be mindful when posting pictures of your child online. It’s nothing to be ashamed of but take a minute to check your privacy settings so you know, and are happy with, how many people may be able to see them. Also, consider that your child may be on social media and could potentially be unhappy that their friends have seen these personal pictures
- Limiting screen time is popular nowadays. Research has shown that children often know, themselves, when they’ve had too much. If you want to implement limitations, work with your child to find out what they deem as enough and go from there – that way the child feels more empowered and in control of their own time and is less likely to hide screen time from you
- Be open to awkward or difficult conversations about what your child is doing online. When your child talks, try to keep reactions calm and encouraging. Negative or extreme reactions can lead to a child closing down about something that might be worried about or they could become more secretive in the future when they come across a problem online
- Trust your instincts as a parent, you know your child
Children are spending increasing amounts of time inhabiting a digital world. Those aged 12-15 spend the most time online – close to 21 hours a week, 18 hours a week on a mobile phone and 12 hours spent gaming. In comparison, 8-11-year olds are online for 13 hours 30 minutes a week and 10 hours are spent using a mobile phone.*
Because of this online exposure, there is now a greater need to empower young people and safeguard them to ward off abuse and threats. This is especially important amongst a young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) audience. Young LGBT people are nearly three times more likely to be bullied and harassed online.**
Sara Rowbotham, who won a special recognition award in the NHS Heroes Awards, said:
“Young people are growing up in a different world and parents and guardians need to be aware of the guidelines around online safety for children and young people. I’d advise adults to communicate with their children and not be fazed by technology and social media, you will always know more than a child regardless of the platform. Perpetrators might be using different tools, but the themes of power and manipulation still apply, and children need to use common sense and make good judgements.”
Matt Haworth, who co-founded Reason Digital in 2008 with a mission to use digital to do good and only work on projects that ‘have a positive social impact on people and improve lives,’ said:
“Social media is such a broad topic, there are so many positives to life in the online community, but like real life, you need to be as streetwise.
“In the last 10 – 15 years parents have had to apply a new way of thinking, as 8/9-year olds now have mobile phones. Sit down with your child and inspire them to trust their instincts and discuss what they’re posting, reading and how they should respond to any unwanted attention.
“The Government is now looking into regulating and fining tech companies like Facebook and Instagram*** who fail to protect children from the dangerous aspects of being online – poor mental health, cyberbullying and grooming. However, parents and guardians also have a duty of care and must accept some responsibility, and this starts by discussing and agreeing to some common ground rules with your child.”
For further specialist advice, parents are advised to consult the NSPCC, Parent Zone and The Children’s Society.