Tuesday 6th February is Safer Internet Day, an annual awareness day run by Childnet to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology for children and young people. So where do older people fit into this challenge?
Firstly, we are all vulnerable to the potential dangers the internet can bring into our lives. If we are to help protect children and young people, then we must first understand exactly what we need to be aware of. Only then, as parents, grandparents, neighbours and community members, can we take steps to ensure the safety of young people using the internet.
It is not at all unusual for children and young people to be better skilled and educated in the use of digital technology and the internet than adults, especially older people. But while children may understand how to access social media, games and the infinite other avenues the internet offers, they may not understand how to manage and avoid the many dangers they could come across when doing so.
And that is why older people must rise to the challenge; parents, grandparents and other adults must play a key role in keeping the internet safe. But how?
According to Gransnet, the main risks to children on the internet are: seeing inappropriate material; giving away private information that could put them in danger; saying or doing things they might regret afterwards; becoming a victim of online bullying; spending too much time in a virtual world, to the detriment of real world lives; scams and fraud; malware (software which is specifically designed to disrupt, damage, or gain authorized access to a computer system) and sites promoting inappropriate behaviours, such as anorexia.
Safer Internet Day aims to raise awareness of how we can minimise these risks.
Did you know that the four big internet providers in the UK – BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media – provide their customers with free parental controls which can be activated at any time? Parental controls are used to block upsetting or harmful content (innocent online searches can sometimes reveal not so innocent results), control in-app purchases or manage how long a child spends online.
To find out how to set up parental controls offered by the four main providers, you can view helpful video guides that show how to download and set-up the controls offered. Visit: https://www.saferinternet.org.uk/advice-centre/parents-and-carers/parental-controls-offered-your-home-internet-provider
Even if you have set up parental controls, if children are using computers or other devices when in your care, it’s best that they do so in a communal space so that you can keep an eye on what they’re looking at and doing. Set clear boundaries about how long children can spend online and stick to them.
If children are using the internet to search for information, you can activate Google SafeSearch. Use the browser to access the Google homepage. Choose “settings” at the bottom of the screen, then click the box to turn on SafeSearch. Similarly, if children are into YouTube, you can opt in to Restricted Mode. Restricted Mode hides videos that may contain inappropriate content. Click on the red user account icon at the top of the page, then click and turn on Restricted Mode. You will need to do this each time you open up a new browser.
Showing an interest in what children do online (even if you think you don’t understand it!) can also be key in helping them stay safe. On their website, Childnet offer a series of ‘conversation starters’ to help parents and carers with this. For example, you could ask them if they can show you how to stay safe online or get them to show you some of the sites that they like to visit.
Having open conversations about internet use is essential; in some cases, children may talk more freely with grandparents than parents about these issues.
Another good topic for conversation is whether communicating responsibly means different things offline and online. Generally, it doesn’t! If you wouldn’t say or show something to someone face to face, in public, then don’t text it, email it, instant message it, Instagram it or post it on Facebook.
Above all, make sure children know that if they do come across something online that upsets or disturbs them, they can talk to you or their parents about it.
There is a whole host of helpful information out there to support you in making the internet safer. Here are a few websites that are worth a look: