New technology is transforming our world. Computers, the internet, and mobile phones are now such a part of everyday life that it is hard to imagine how we coped without them.
However, technology is not all positive, and an awareness of the downsides and risks is essential. As a parent you should be aware of the dangers, so you can monitor, support and advise your children. It is impossible and possibly unreasonable to "ban" your son or daughter from accessing these technologies, but it is important that you discuss with them what the dangers are, and help them to understand the risks.
Imagine if we allowed children to drive cars without any training or supervision, and let them drive anywhere they liked, whenever they liked. It would be asking for trouble. Yet this is what we are doing by allowing them to learn how to use all the new technologies on their own, with no guidance.
This page contains some key information you should be aware of, and provides links to other sites that give more detailed information.
The Internet is a fantastic source of information for all ages. However, there is information on the Internet that is unsuitable for young people, or that is misleading or inaccurate. Some sites are constructed by fraudsters and criminal gangs, that either try to extract personal information ("phishing") or install malicious software on your machine without your knowledge ("trojans" or "keyloggers"). With sites such as YouTube, young people can be exposed to video footage that might not be age appropriate. Users can also leave comments about videos that could contain unsuitable language.
Bear in mind these points:
- It is advisable to keep computers in family rooms rather than in bedrooms so you can keep an eye on what your child is doing.
- Make it clear to the children in your home that they should never publish personal information about themselves on the Internet as it could be accessible to people they do not know and therefore put them at risk.
- It's not just computers that can be used to access the Internet. Mobile phones and games consoles, eBook readers and even MP3 players can also be used. Anything you could do on a computer connected to the Internet can also potentially be done with these devices.
- You can turn on "safe search" options on some search engines such as Google, and on YouTube. This can help to prevent inappropriate material being seen by children.
- Avoid file sharing sites, and avoid downloading and installing software unless you are certain it is trustworthy.
- Installing an up to date virus checker can prevent problems. Even a free one like AVG can be sufficient protection.
Cyberbullying is bullying via digital technologies like mobile phones and computers. This is just as upsetting as physical bullying, and in some ways worse, because the victim can be bullied in their own home, and can never really "get away" from the bully. However, it can be easier to investigate and prove because the evidence usually can be saved, stored or printed.
- If the bullying is happening in school, contact the Form Tutor or Year Team Leader to get their help.
- It is always worth trying to solve the situation amicably if you can. If you know the other child, consider talking to their parents if you can do so calmly and without making the situation worse.
- Make sure your own children are aware of the hurt bullying causes and aren't involved in bullying themselves.
- Save any evidence by saving/storing/printing it. Know how to take a screen shot.
- In serious cases, bullies can be prosecuted under the Harassment Act 1997. If at least two incidents have occurred and the bully is over 10, you can contact the Police and they could prosecute under the above Act.
The big buzz over the last few years has been Social Networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and Bebo. Whilst they can be a good way to keep in touch with friends and family, we have seen a number of incidents arise in school that originated from comments made out of school hours on sites like Facebook. These comments can be seen by anyone in the circle of friends/family so any insult is magnified and lives longer than an old fashioned face to face insult.
Another issue is the number of people that children will 'friend' on these sites. Often they will boast about the number of 'friends' they have, and become competitive in having the most. This means they will sometimes friend people they don't know very well, or in some cases will friend virtual strangers. This can leave them open to exploitation.
Finally, most of these sites invite the users to record lots of information about themselves, including home address, phone number, age etc. The privacy settings can be very complicated, and getting them wrong can mean that information can be seen by anyone at all - not just friends or family. Annoyingly, the companies that produce these sites have on occasion changed the settings so information is made public on all accounts unless you tell them otherwise.
- Make sure your son/daughter understands all the privacy settings and checks them frequently.
- Advise them not to 'friend' people that they don't know.
- Most sites have age restrictions so check them - e.g. Facebook is for people over 13.
- Set up your own social networking account and ‘friend’ your son/daughter to keep an eye on them.
The most serious risk for children as a result of new technologies is through exploitation. The Internet can provide anonymity for those who will exploit vulnerable children. The UK Police have set up an organisation called Child Exploitation Online Protection - CEOP to educate children and their parents as to the dangers posed by predators on the Internet.
If you do only one thing after reading these pages it should be to go through the information that CEOP have provided for parents here, and then ensure that your children go through the pages intended for them here. Discuss what they have seen and read on the site with them afterwards.
Electronic devices themselves can endanger children, because they make them targets for thieves and muggers. According to the Metropolitan Police, 10,000 mobile phones are stolen every month, and two thirds of the victims are 13-16 year olds. As a school we lose a lot of staff time at all levels trying to help students who have lost or had mobiles stolen. The following advice is straight from the Police:
- Avoid bringing expensive models of mobile phones to school.
- Do not flaunt expensive items either in school, or on the way into school.
- Keep a note of phone IMEI numbers, so the phone can be blocked if stolen or lost.
- We have noticed recently that students are coming in with very expensive headphones, some of which cost nearly £300.
- Headphones also signal that someone is carrying a mobile phone or MP3 player, and can also give a thief or mugger a clue as to where the device is kept.
For more detailed information, please visit the sites below.