The Internet has rapidly become the medium of choice for children and young people, not just for socialising and entertainment, but also as a key educational tool.
When children surf the web in a safe environment, it can be their most beneficial friend. With the help of the Internet, children can learn almost anything independently, from how to read more quickly and retain information at a more advanced level to boosting their self-confidence. However, in an increasingly connected world, the Internet is also home to those who wish to target the vulnerable or uninformed.
The trouble is, as a light is shone on more and more of the online threats encompassing children's lives - from the risk of connected toys being hacked to online grooming - there's a risk of young people being discouraged from using the Internet. In fact, recent research from Kaspersky Lab shows that almost half (49%) of British children are now actually scared about using the Internet.
With online threats varying from personal data collected on devices to grooming on gaming platforms and trolling in social media forums, one in five children (21%) admit they worry that a stranger may bully them and 18% worry that a stranger might ask them to do something illegal.
The study also discovered that children are conscious that their online activities may result in real world consequences; with one in 10 (10%) worried that strangers would have access to information posted online even after it had been deleted, and over a third (36%) admitting they had previously regretted posting something because it may have negatively affected someone.
As technology continues to develop and evolve, the importance of keeping children as safe online as they are offline assumes a higher priority. Internet security companies, schools and governments are working together constantly to not only raise awareness and educate, but to help implement the right technology, tools and guidance to enable parents and children to make safer choices when going online.
Key government initiatives aimed at educating children and young people about the risks and vulnerabilities of using the Internet are currently being deployed across the UK. For example, the new initiative headed by culture secretary Karen Bradley is aimed at developing a new Internet Safety Strategy designed to make Britain the safest country in the world for children to be online, with a green paper expected in the summer.
There are a few simple steps you can take as a parent or teacher, to help keep children safe online;
1. Talk to them about the potential dangers. Parents may feel that teaching young children about online dangers is a minefield; however, it may help to remember that many online threats mirror those in in the real world.
2. Encourage them to talk to you about their online experience and in particular, anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened.
3. Set clear ground-rules about what they can and can't do online and explain why you have put them in place.
4. Use parental control software to establish the framework for what's acceptable - how much time (and when) they can spend online, what content should be blocked, what types of activity should be blocked (chat rooms, forums, etc.). Parental control filters can be configured for different computer profiles, allowing you to customise the filters for different children in your family.
5. Don't forget to make use of settings provided by your ISP, device manufacturer and mobile phone network provider. For example, most phones allow you to prevent in-app purchases, so you can avoid children running up hefty bills when they play games.
6. Protect the computer using Internet security software - Most Internet security products now include a parental control module that lets parents put a protective barrier around their children.
7. Don't forget their smartphone or tablet - these are also sophisticated computers. Most mobile devices come with parental controls and security software providers may offer apps to filter out inappropriate content, or block senders of nuisance SMS messages, etc.
8. Make use of the great advice available on the Internet - for example the Safer Internet Day site (http://www.saferinternet.org/safer-internet-day) or the CEOP Thinkuknow site (http://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/).
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