The internet is an ever-increasing part of our lives; personally and professionally. Crucially influential for young people, the internet is an essential tool for learning, communicating and helping form a personal identity for young people within their peer groups.
Despite its obvious educational benefits, problems arise where children use the internet without guidance from adults; worryingly, the UK Council for Child Internet Safety has found that 79% of children use the internet unsupervised.
With the increased use of smartphones across all age groups, instant and easy access to the internet is available at the swipe of a finger. Dangers no longer only exist when using the family PC, making supervised internet usage harder to enforce.
So, what are the main risks of the internet and smartphone usage for children and young people?
Cyber-bullying uses technology to target people in a threatening, hostile and often extremely cruel way through a variety of platforms, namely social networks, blogs, texting and messenger services such as kik or bbm. Sadly, it often comes from those in the child’s peer group, meaning it could be a continuation of bullying which takes place at school meaning there is no respite for the victim of bullying of this kind.
This is the most disturbing and dangerous threats to a young person’s safety on social networking sites. Anonymity allows precarious characters such as paedophiles and child abusers to take on a friendly, approachable persona. These personas are used to befriend children and teenagers, often pretending they are the same age, with the same interests. The groomer will then encourage the young person to exchange phone numbers and meet them face to face.
Grooming of children for the purpose of abuse happens everywhere - in local communities, afterschool clubs and within families, but online it can be faster because of the anonymity factor. Children can come to trust an online ‘friend’ far quicker than someone they meet face to face. Those intent on grooming a child in this way are not restricted as they would be in the non-virtual world.
So, how do we, as parents, carers and guardians, combat this?
The key is in communication.
Parents and carers must be fully engaged and aware of how their young people use the internet. They should ensure that the family computer is in a communal area. Dangers of the internet should be talked about alongside the benefits so that young people feel comfortable about informing parents and carers of anything they find online.
There a number of organisations and societies who have devised codes and schemes to help parents and carers dissuade young people from finding themselves in these situations, which we can take advantage of.
One good example of this is Netmums who have devised a digital safety code, likening it to the importance of the Green Cross Code. It is largely based on communication between parents and carers and children/teenagers.
It is recommended that we:
- Show an active interest and talk to children and young people about the sites and online communities they belong to. Ask them to show you how they are used.
- Impress upon children and young people that social media sites are not suitable for those under 13. When they are ready to join, discuss and view privacy settings together.
- Keep talking to children and young people about the internet - about the positives and dangers so they feel it is an area they can openly discuss with you.
CEOP works across the UK to protect children and young people both online and offline. They work closely with the NCA (National Crime Agency) to pursue those who abuse and sexually exploit children and young people, protect children and young people and prepare interventions to reduce the impact of abuse.
To find out more about Online Safety and the Impact of Smart Phones & Social Media on young people, as well as information surrounding other useful topics, please contact us on 01923 679 733.