Today is World Internet Safety Day. Keeping children safe online is one of the biggest concerns facing parents in the 21st century. We were lucky to be given a ticket to the Wise Kids Summit held on Monday 30th January 2017, where various industry experts, healthcare professionals, and young people themselves talked about internet safety, and becoming digital citizens.
The day was jam packed and extremely informative. Here are the top five things to take away:
- Children’s Rights
The United Nations Convention On The Rights Of The Child made law in Wales in 2011. Children’s rights which relate to their access to digital media and internet access include the four Ps: Participation; Protection; Provision; and Promotion. Knowledge of children’s rights and keeping children safe online cannot be taken in isolation, we need to adopt a whole life approach. It’s important to remember that risk is only one aspect of the internet. Talking to strangers online in itself isn’t a risk if the child knows their rights and have the skills to identify risk. For children to be able to identify risk, we need to remember that we should be…
- Working with children
Talking at children doesn’t work, we need to work with them. To enable this, we need to understand how children are using the internet, and the difference between their use at home and school; the differences between their gaming experiences and social media etc. We need to build relationships and trust with our children – have a non-judgmental space where anything can be discussed without negative reactions. This will provide a platform for children, particularly teens, to be open about internet use and problems.
When asking the children on the panels at the summit about their internet use, we were surprised to hear that primary school age children were using social media, together with the less surprising gaming, homework research, and YouTube. Unsurprisingly, the high school age children also use social media, but their reasons may surprise you:
“Social media strengthens my communication skills”
Maisy – Ysgol y Preseli
“Most of my cultural information has come from the internet”
Katie – Ysgol y Preseli
Research has shown that engaging parenting, together with children’s skill levels, positively affect children’s online resilience. Blocking, filters, and other restrictions whilst seemingly positive negatively affect their online resilience. The reasons given were that unless children are exposed (within a safe environment, with parental support) to uncomfortable content, they will not be aware of how to deal with it physically or mentally. This also extends to the confiscation of equipment which doesn’t help teach children how to recognise their limits. We need to encourage meaningful participation, whilst ensuring our children THINK; is what they’re posting or accessing:
“Children use tech but don’t understand how it works. The more they understand, the safer they can be”
It is important to work with our children to gain a greater understanding of the internet, and what posting content on websites such as Facebook and Instagram actually mean. Once you have posted an image online, you can never fully remove it. You may be able to remove the image from your timeline, but there is still a copy in the cloud, forever the property of the company whose website you’ve used. This is especially important when it comes to teaching your children to obtain consent from the people in their photographs, which seems ironic when parents will share around 1500 images of their children before they reach the age of 5.
Being cyberbullied increases a child’s risk of self-harm. Whilst this is a very sensitive subject, it is important to be aware that self-harm behaviour is being seen in an increasingly younger population. When dealing with self-harm and mental health issues in young people, it is imperative that digital histories are being taken alongside physical ones. Young people, as with adults, very often have a whole other life online, and all aspects need to be accounted for to ensure their wellbeing.
Young people are also increasingly looking at and using pro eating disorder websites. Whilst it is important to realise eating disorders are serious mental health conditions, and reading a website out of curiosity isn’t likely to “turn” your child anorexic, it is worth knowing that there are very few disclaimers on sites, and whilst they were password protected in the past, many sites have now removed these passwords. Many children are using these sites to speak with people who understand them and to swap art and poetry. Whilst use of these sites is not to be encouraged, assist your child to find support and an outlet for their creativity in another way.
Whilst this section may seem very negative, online access has been extremely positive for children who have issues and do not feel comfortable speaking to a known adult. 70% of contact to Childline is now online, and ProMo-Cymru have confirmed that most people who use their 0-25 advice and advocacy service Meic also access this online.
- Sex and digital
In the age of Snapchat and instant messaging apps, ‘sexting’ has become a real worry to parents and adolescents alike. In the forefront of the news, with revenge porn strewn across headlines, it is especially important to talk to young people about the importance of keeping themselves safe, and knowing their rights.
Include technology in discussions regarding sexual and relationship education. Ensure young people know that once they have sent someone an image, they have no control over what happens to it, and offer an alternative. Childline have developed an app called Zipit which has witty memes to respond to requests for nude photographs, or anything else they may feel uncomfortable sharing.
In order for teens to know how to say no to their peers requesting images, we need to teach younger children that they are allowed to say no. Don’t force them to cuddle an aunt they hardly know, accept it if your child says they don’t want a kiss. Teach them that they have a right to decide what happens to their bodies, and with your guidance, they will become responsible and safe adolescents.
- Screen time
Contrary to popular belief, allowing young people access to screen time does not immediately detrimentally affect their wellbeing. In fact, a study by Dr Andrew Przybylski, Oxford University shows that moderate screen time shows higher wellbeing than low or no use. The study also shows that wellbeing during weekend online gaming sessions didn’t start to decline until approximately 3 hours 45 minutes of gaming time (you can access his research papers using this link, although charges may apply https://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/people/andrew-przybylski/.)
Whilst the above means we can relax a little when we allow our children to have a few games of Minecraft, we all face the same struggle: how do we get them off the game when time is up?
During the summit, Dr Richard Graham, Tavistock Clinic, and Vicki Shotbolt, Parent Zone, advised that games are immersive. In the same way that yanking up a deep sea diver would give them the bends, we don’t want to yank our children out of the world they are in, we need to do this gently and with understanding.
So, how do we avoid the internet bends? It all comes back to working with the child, and understanding what it is that’s drawing them into the game. Make sure you’re giving them an engaging, exciting alternative. How often do we only pull our children off their favourite device, for them to learn they only have to do boring things like having a bath, going to bed, or eating dinner? Whilst they are completely valid reasons to cut them off, make sure they aren’t the only times:
“My dad told me and my brother to get off our computers because we were off to Brecon on a snow hunt. We spent the afternoon having a picnic in the snow – it was so fun!”
Ruth – Youth Council for Wales
It was also suggested that we play these games with our children. Go into their world, share their passions, and open up the opportunity to monitor what they’re doing, and making sure they’re staying safe:
“I can only play Dota 2 with my dad. He keeps me safe from the bad words.”
Matty Williams – Autism Puzzles, Age 8
We learned a lot from the panellists, both professional and youth, in how we can keep our children safe online. The overriding message was simple: ensure your children know their rights, and enable a safe space for honest open dialogue.
We have included below a list of websites which will be able to help you further:
We also have a pack of leaflets in the Autism Puzzles office which can be accessed by our members. If anyone wishes to view these, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.