Thursday, 22 February 2018
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Halloween 2016

This global platform for information dissemination provides an invaluable source for our children to learn, have fun and expand their horizons. But what of the dangers asks Brian Patterson?

noun: Internet
1. a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks using standardized communication protocols.

So are we onto a winner?

Children today have no fear or misconceptions around online activity. Many kids feel invulnerable in the digital world and without real-life experience, lack of caution and responsibility can put them at risk. Schools are doing more now to promote online safety, however, there is not always an awareness about viruses, privacy, phishing, social media and other internet related safety and security issues.

Before considering any technical solutions for protection, having a discussion about the dangers must be top of the list for action. Talk to them from an early age, discuss what’s acceptable and what’s not and help them understand the need to be respectful to others. Talk to them about your concerns and get them to understand and agree on some ground rules. A terrific way to keep yourself up to date with what’s happening in the digital world is via the ‘BBC Click’ service. This can provide a great way to open conversations around current and emerging technologies.

Most children now have access to a home PC or laptop, however, with such a range of operating systems, the best advice here would be to check on the Microsoft website under ‘Family Safety’ for information. There are many useful tips here covering user accounts, family safety limits, filtering adult content, etc. Smartphones are also powered by an operating system which is where your phone’s preferences and safety controls are set and stored. All main UK phone service providers offer specific guidance on the safety features available via their websites. Watch out for the pitfalls of exceeding monthly plans as things could get expensive. Talk about the dangers of premium-priced text and voice messages as it’s all too easy for kids to run up a big monthly bill.

The games consoles most of our kids use are connecting players from all over the planet. They offer access to internet search engines and can even download movies. Remember to check the family safety settings on these devices and ask your child who is joining them for their online gaming session. There are a number of key points to consider when granting your kids access to such a powerful tool:

-Online communication is instant, when you write or post something online there is no taking it back.

-Wherever possible, sign accounts up and associate with a parental account. This means you will get important notifications of purchases or changes to the account.

-Make sure you have the passwords for all devices and regularly check the content on their apps.

-Familiarise yourself with the parental/privacy controls built into most devices and apps or those offered by your ISP (internet service provider); these provide invaluable protection, all with no additional cost. You may need to adjust some of the controls as the child gets older and importantly for older siblings remember what you have access to may not be suitable for a younger family member.

-Set some rules boundaries around when and where the devices can be used. For younger children it’s perhaps best to have a computer in a family area rather than a bedroom so activity can be monitored at first hand.

-Most home broadband providers will offer a parental control option. This can be used to set times when all connected devices can access the internet. This level of control is most useful as other devices in the home (TV, laptop, smartphone, etc.) can continue to function.

-Set up password-protected user profiles for everyone at home and you’ll be able to control who sees what.

Even with all these parental controls in place, internet access is available outside the home. This is when adult content may be available and emphasises the need for discussion around the issues that could arise. We must all surely agree the huge educational, entertainment and social benefits on offer from this amazing global network are extraordinary. It has revolutionised our lives and the way we interact with others. We have placed such a powerful device in the hands of our kids we must now take responsibility to ensure they respect it.

New research has revealed more than half of children under the age of 16 (53%) are accessing the internet on a handheld device, while a quarter have an internet enabled computer in their bedroom. Online age verification system, AgeChecked, surveyed parents to reveal the range of ways their children are accessing the internet unsupervised to highlight the potential problems for parents. While 52 per cent of children have access to a shared family computer which can be easily observed by parents, almost two thirds (64%) can access the internet via a games console and over half (53%) via a tablet or phone. Worryingly, the report also revealed that over two thirds of parents (68%) cannot be sure who their children are communicating with on the internet while over half (57%) believe that current age restrictions to protect children online aren’t working effectively.

Brian is Director of Zenith Networks Ltd

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