There are a lot of days in the calendar year where the general public are made aware of various worldwide issues, though from a personal view, Safer Internet Day (http://www.saferinternet.org.uk/safer-internet-day/2014/) is one of the most important as it affects us globally.
While technology has evolved at an alarming rate since Apple introduce the first iPhone, there’s now a major disconnect between the law and what happens online. To add to the problem, not all parents/teachers/police officers actually understand what happens on the internet, and how to protect the vulnerable. According to the internet security company ESET (as reported by The Telegraph), 77% of parents bought their children an internet-enabled device last year, however only 45% of parents activated any parental controls or ani-virus software!
In my teens, I participated in voluntary leadership work at The Zone, a Jewish social club in North Leeds. At that time, Facebook didn’t exist, though kids were just starting to learn about the new craze “MySpace”. Back then, things weren’t so much of an issue as computers were limited to public areas such as a living room, with the family sharing one computer. With smartphones, tablets, netbooks and other portable devices however, children are becomning a lot more independant in their online activities, and while I knew about the threats to some level, working for 4 years at Crisp Thinking highlighted the real dangers online.
The Kids & Teens product sold by Crisp is a service which integrates with online environments that have young users (anywhere below 16, but mostly below 13). The software uses advanced profiling mechanisms to detect internet predators and as I used to say to the customers “Crisp can tell the difference between a child talking to a child and an adult pretending to be a child talking to a child” – Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue but you get the drift. What was a surprise for me is that while we did detect that type of activity, the most common type of abuse (at an alarming rate) was severe bullying and profanity… That may not seem bad for a lot of people used to the digital world, but remember, I said we were in environments which mostly targetted under 13’s!!
This post isn’t meant to scare you into thinking children shouldn’t have a digital life, but if left unmoderated and unmonitored, it is as dangerous as leaving your child in the middle of a bad neighborhood, alone. Would you do that? No. Would you educate your child into not being in that situation in the first place? Of course you would – Though for some reason, that hasn’t yet translated into the same online.
To make matters more difficult, if you restrict your child’s internet usage, you’ll likely be seen as the big bad wolf removing toys for no good reason (in the child’s view). Equally, if you watch everything they do, they’ll start to use acronyms and codes to get around being detected (you won’t believe how smart kids are today.. here’s some common acronyms and believe me, you’ll be surprised: http://www.noslang.com/top20.php).
What’s the solution? Education! Talking to a stranger online is still talking to a stranger – I imagine that’s something you tell your children not to do, and this should be re-applied to the online world too. Teaching youngsters about online privacy is also important with the basic concept of whatever you do online is or can be public! If you don’t want your parents/grandparents to see something you’re doing online, then you really shouldn’t be doing it..! Ensuring your children are aware of the online dangers will mean that, in their own best interests, they stick to doing more safe stuff online such as playing games with only their friends, and if they do use social media, restricting privacy settings so randomers can’t message or tag them in public content.
It’s not an easy time to be a parent of a young teenager due to the threats in the online world, and the lack of knowledge around these issues, but it is crucial that they are not ignored. There have been too many cases of cyber bullying/blackmail/abuse which has resulted in tradegy. Facebook/Twitter and other online environemnts need to take more responsibility, but until the law catches up to figure out how they should do this, it’s up to the parents to find a way to ensure their children are safe online.
If you ever do find your children talking to someone older online, you can and should report them to CEOP: http://ceop.police.uk/safety-centre/
If you want more advice or recommendations on technologies that can help, feel free to tweet me, though here are some more pieces of content related to Safer Internet Day:
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