Safer Internet Day: Educating parents on Internet safety for their children

This content is 14 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that today is European Safer Internet Day and, here in the UK a number of organisations are working with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP) to educate parents and children in safe use of the Internet.  I don’t work for Microsoft but, as an MVP, I was invited to join in and tonight I’ll be delivering a session to parents at my son’s school, using Microsoft’s presentation deck (although it has to be said that this is not a marketing deck – it’s full of real-world examples and practical advice about protecting children and young people from the specific dangers the Internet can pose, whilst allowing them to make full use of the ‘net’s many benefits: turning it off is not the answer).

The BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones has reported some of the activities for Safer Internet Day; although the Open Rights Group’s suggestion that this is all about scoring a publicity hit for a little cost are a little cynical – Microsoft has a social responsibility role to play and by working with CEOP to produce an IE 8 browser add-in the UK subsidiary’s activities are laudable.  If other browser-makers want to follow suit – then they can also work with CEOP (ditto for the social networking sites that have yet to incorporate the Report Abuse button).  Indeed, quoting from James O’Neill’s post this morning:

“We are part of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) and Gordon [Frazer – Microsoft UK MD and VP Microsoft International]’s mail also said ‘This year as part of the ‘Click Clever Click Safe’ campaign UKCCIS will be launching a new digital safety code for children – ‘Zip It, Block It, Flag It’. Over 100 Microsoft volunteers will be out in schools in the UK teaching young people and parents alike about child online safety and helping build public awareness for simple safety tips.

Our volunteering activities today mark our strong commitment to child online safety. Online safety is not only core to our business, as exemplified by particular features in Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) and our work in developing the Microsoft Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS) which helps law enforcement officials collaborate and share information with other police services to manage child protection cases, but it is also an issue that our employees, many parents themselves, take very seriously. As a company we put a great deal of faith in our technology, however, we are also aware that the tools we provide have to be used responsibly.”

Anyway, I digress – part of the presentation I’ll be giving this evening will include a fact sheet, produced by Microsoft, that I’ll leave with parents and I’d like to repeat some of the advice it contains here (with a few edits of my own…).

Safety Considerations

The Internet is a fantastic resource for young people but we must remember that the same as in the real world, there can be potential dangers to consider:

  • Control – Personal information can be easily accessed if it is posted online. Consider what information about your child someone could access online.
  • Contact – Paedophiles use the Internet to meet young people and build up a relationship.  This is often done in a public environment such as a chat room or online game before trust is built up to become an online friend for 1-1 conversations.
  • Cyberbulling – Other people may make use of technology to bully a young person 24/7.  By using online technology a bully can gain an instant and wide audience for their bullying. Cyberbullying can be threats and intimidation as well as harassment and peer rejection.
  • Content – The Internet can contain inappropriate images of violence and pornography that you might be unhappy for your child to have access to.

Top Tips for Parents

These simple rules can help to keep children safe:

  • Keep your PC in an open space where possible to encourage communication.
  • Discuss the programs your children use.
  • Keep communication open with regards to who they are chatting to online.
  • Discuss their list of contacts and check they know all those they have accepted as friends.
  • Consider using the same technology so you can understand how it works.
  • Talk to your children about keeping their information and photos private using privacy settings on sites such as Bebo and Facebook.
  • Teach your children what personal information is and that they shouldn’t share it online with people they don’t know.
  • Make use of Parental Controls where available. These can allow you to control the amount of time your children are online, the sites they can access and the people they can talk to.   Controls are available for many products including Windows (Vista and 7), Mac OS X, Xbox and Windows Live (Family Safety), or more technical users might consider using an alternative DNS provider such as OpenDNS.

Some useful links include:

How to Get Help

For Young People:

For Adults:

  • Adults can speak to The Samaritans. The Samaritans provide confidential emotional support for people who are in emotional distress. If you are worried, feel upset or confused and just want to talk you can email the Samaritans or phone 08457 90 90 90.

I forgot that presenting at a school where I have an association means that some of the people in the audience are my friends (blurring my personal/professional boundary…) but hey, there are some important messages at stake here.  If all goes well tonight, I’ll be contacting other schools in the area to do something similar.

[Updated 24 November 2014: CBBC Stay Safe link updated; Metropolitan Police link added]

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