When I fostered fourteen year old Stevie, whose story I tell in Finding Stevie, I had a sharp learning in curve in how to keep young people safe online. I learnt a lot and so did Stevie, unfortunately the hard way.
The advantages of the internet cannot be overstated – communication, socialising, easy access to information and learning, up-to-the minute news, and shopping, to name but a few. But there is also a dark side to the internet from which young people need protecting. The apparent anonymity online is a tool exploited by paedophiles, bullies, and criminals. Children and young people are especially vulnerable as they are very trusting.
Based on what I learnt I’ve drawn up some guidelines to help keep children and younger people safe:
- Supervise. Nothing is as good as supervision. Have the laptop or device the child uses in the main living room so you can keep an eye on what they are doing. Don’t be afraid to ask who they are talking to just as you would ask about their friends at school.
- Install parental control software. There are free versions available for PCs, laptops, tablets and phones. These block access to inappropriate websites and undesirable content. They can also be used to control the amount of time a child spends online.
- Cover the in-built camera on a laptop with a sticking plaster. Spyware that allows the perpetrator to use your camera and see into your home without you being aware is easily available.
- Teach your child or young person how to stay safe online by working with them and setting privacy controls.
- Have a social media account so you understand how it works. Be your child or young person’s friend and monitor their activity.
- Teach your child not to share any personal details online including their full name, photograph, home and school address.
- If your child or younger person has any concerns about someone who has contacted them or they have been chatting to online they must feel they can tell you. Report suspicious or unwanted attention to the website moderator.
- Show your child or young person how to ‘block’ someone on social media.
- Be vigilant. Does your child look worried after receiving a text message or going online? Bullies are no longer left at school but can follow the victim home through social media, texts emails and so on. Similarly, paedophiles can gain access to the child in your home through the internet.
Relationships do form through social media. If your young person wants to meet someone they have been chatting to online find out as much as you can about the person, then suggest they meet at your house. Alternatively give them a lift in your car or go with them, and then wait unobtrusively. If it’s genuine the other person won’t mind. They may have a laugh but better to be safe than sorry.