Parents need help to keep their kids safe online
That was the stark message from Internet safety consultant Charles Conway*, speaking to representatives of the Welsh Assembly, voluntary organisations and churches from across Wales at the Flintshire Gweini Conference** in Mold on Friday (21st October).
Quoting the latest OFCOM media literacy survey, he said that whilst up to 70% of parents say that they know less about the Internet than their children, only 37% have taken the most basic steps to protect their kids from Internet related threats such as cyberbullying, inappropriate content and grooming.
According to Conway, a consultant with Wrexham based e-safety training firm Clear as Crystal Training and the editor of popular scam awareness website Scam Detectives, the key to keeping kids safe online is for their parents to understand how they use Internet connected technologies, and to become more aware of what risks they face when they do get online.
“We need to take the online safety message off the Internet and into the community groups where parents are getting together” he said. “Whilst there are some fantastic resources on the internet to support parents, if they don’t understand the technology, and don’t know what questions they should be asking, they can’t know where to look for the answers”.
He was critical of parents who allow younger children to join social networking websites such as Facebook in contravention of the “no under 13’s” rule.
“Facebook is not suitable for young children” he said “When parents allow younger children to join the site, they not only put them at risk of cyberbullying and exposure to inappropriate material but also of contact with strangers who may mean to do them harm. Even if Facebook was completely safe for young kids, allowing them to have an account when they’re under-age teaches them that the rules don’t apply to them and that it’s OK to lie about their age to get what they want, which isn’t a healthy message for them to learn from their parents.”
He said that parents have to take online safety as seriously as teaching their kids to cross the road, and to apply the same principles.
“Yes, with opportunity comes risk and children need to be prepared for that risk. But we teach our children to cross the road safely, we don’t push them in front of a bus and hope they get out of the way in time. By allowing them to use the Internet without guidance and supervision, we’re pushing them in front of that bus.”
Despite the risks, he says that the Internet is a “hugely positive space” for our kids.
“When you look beyond the risks of cyberbullying, inappropriate content and contact with strangers, the Internet has opened up a whole world of opportunity for our kids. Employers will expect them to have the skills that they need to update the Company website, process online orders and to harness the power of social media to engage potential clients, and if we don’t allow them to learn those skills, we risk failing them as parents and putting them at a distinct disadvantage. So we need to balance our responsibility as parents to keep our kids safe with our responsibility to encourage them to learn how to use the technology effectively”.
He concluded by asking Government, schools, voluntary organisations and churches to commit resources to training parents in online safety issues.
“These parents need our help. Before it’s too late”.
* Charles Conway is the editor of online safety website “Scam Detectives” and an online safety trainer at Wrexham based Clear as Crystal Training, providing internet safety training to parents, teachers, social workers, foster carers and children. Twice shortlisted for the prestigious “Nominet Internet Award” for “making the Internet safer”, Charles is passionate about the vulnerability of children online and helping those who care for them to “bridge the gap” between what they know about the ‘net and what their children know to help them to make informed choices about their children’s internet activity. He’s also an associate member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS).
** Gweini Serving the Christian Voluntary Sector was established in October 1999 by Care for Wales, Cornerstone Church Swansea, Evangelical Alliance for Wales and Tearfund. Gweini is run under the umbrella of the Evangelical Alliance Charity No 212325 and is known as the Council of the Christian Voluntary Sector in Wales, previously called the Council of Christian Community Work in Wales.