Week in, week out we’re being told about how much time our children are spending online.
An Ofcom study in November revealed that children are spending 15 hours a week on the internet. Our own research released earlier in the year showed that children are spending on average three hours per day on the internet on their smartphones, with most parents agreeing it’s ok for children to own a smartphone from the age of 10.
So, what are our kids doing online? Whether it’s Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook or ooVoo, clever and entertaining applications are finding new ways into our pockets to encourage us to communicate and share with our friends. The benefits of this connectivity brings us all closer together and provides extraordinary opportunities with a swipe of the touch screen. But over the last year we’ve seen how this self-expression-based technology has put our children’s internet safety at potential risk.
Internet safety risks that made headlines
The headlines in 2015 reveal a worrying trend of sexting, cyberbullying, online grooming, identity theft and radicalisation on the web.
‘The National Crime Agency revealed that Child protection officers are investigating one case involving sexting every day.’
‘Techknowledge For Schools reveals that 20% of secondary school children have been involved in hurtful behaviour online’
The Internet Matters Pace of Change report shows that 36% of children have messaged people they have met online
The Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance System (CIFAS) said the number of identity theft victims rose by 31% in the first three months of 2015
Children are also increasingly turning to YouTube for “true and accurate” information about what’s going on in the world according to a new report by Ofcom. The Children and Parents Media and Attitudes Report shows the video sharing site is the preferred choice for this kind of information among nearly one in ten (8%) online children, with many of these children not realising the content they are watching might be sponsored or paid for.
As well children trusting information they see online, without parental controls in place, children are at risk of accessing inappropriate content. The majority of parents still don’t use parental controls on home broadband or the safe search mode on Google and YouTube which enables important content filtering for our kids.
The power of the internet for good
While the internet safety risks are evident, we have seen an enormous amount of work by schools, charities, Government and the industry to address these growing concerns. But fundamentally we need to bring our children up to become good digital citizens; they need to know the rights and wrongs of the web, to know how to be safe online so they can maximise the benefits that the web brings us. Our focus is on empowering parents to do just this.
Parents and children are aware about the dangers of the web and understand the importance of internet safety, yet the majority of parents still do not put the appropriate parental controls in place on their home broadband, search engines, gaming consoles and mobile devices.
What parents can do to keep children safe online
Controls is an important first step in a parent’s efforts to make sure their children are safe online. However, it is equally important for parents to engage with their children on the subject of internet safety. Our Pace of Change report showed how there is a growing gulf in digital knowledge between parents and their children. Having open and honest conversations with children about what they are doing online and how to be safe is critical.
Looking ahead to 2016
As we move into 2016, one thing is clear, technology advancements will continue to accelerate at a pace. Whether the Facebook dislike button gets introduced or new people rating app ‘Peeple’ launches, we collectively need to embark on a mission for 2016 of ‘less talk and more action’. This will ensure we activate more controls across all of our devices and platforms and have more frequent and direct conversations with our children about online safety.