Research by e-safety group Internet Matters shows that the average child spends nearly three and a half hours a day online or on their smartphones
It’s not just the amount of chocolate your kids are going to be eating that you have to keep tabs on this Easter. Being home for two weeks means they’ll be itching to get on their PlayStations or smartphones, glued to YouTube videos and chatting to friends on social media.
Carolyn Bunting, General Manager of Internet Matters and a mum-of-two herself explains to how school holidays are an important time to ensure your children are safe online.
Q: Should I be worried about what my child is doing on their phone or tablet?
A: It’s natural for parents to feel anxious about what their child is doing, simply because a lot of children are more technologically advanced than we are. While our recent report shows children aged between seven and seventeen spend on average 3.4 hours a day on their phones, the time spent online gaming and chatting to friends over the internet is bound to increase over the Easter holidays as kids will have more time at home.
Q: What’s the best way of reducing the amount of time my child spends on the internet?
A: Set some boundaries for your children and stick to them. It’s best to give their eyes half an hour’s rest from the screen before bed, so make sure to factor that in. If it helps, tell your child that you are putting your mobile or tablet away too – your children are more likely to mirror your actions if they see you doing it as well. Forest is a great app where you can grow a forest full of trees, unlocking new varieties and sizes as you progress by leaving your phone alone – the longer you leave your phone untouched, the bigger your forest will grow. This is a great incentive for giving your kids a break away from the screen – it’s a game you can only win by not playing it!
Q: Is there a way I can stop my child interacting with strangers online?
A: It’s one of the most common questions we’re asked and there are some preventative steps you can put in place. Only 47% of children we recently surveyed have succeeded in setting their social media profiles to ‘private’ – this means that anyone can view their photos and “follow” or add them as a friend. Set them all to private so strangers can’t automatically get in contact with your kids. Although it might seem a small number, 6% of children we asked admitted to meeting up in real life with someone they’ve met online. Furthermore, nearly one in five have given out personal information like their full name, address and telephone number.
Q: There’s been a lot of stories about social media apps in the news lately. Are there any safe ones my child can use?
A: The Internet is a wonderful place, where children can learn and discover, but there are of course potential dangers. While social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are for children aged thirteen and above, apps such as Moshi Monsters and Disney’s Club Penguin are completely safe to use for those aged seven and over.
Q: There seems to be so many apps out there at the moment that I can’t keep up. Kids seem to be using them all the time.
A: Children will use on average four different social media networks, while parents are only using 2.7, so it’s natural to feel slightly out of your depth. Try and engage with your children and ask them what they’re up to – this will not only make you feel more confident about what your child is doing, but will build trust between them and you.
Q: Do you think it’s a lot easier to entertain your kids over the holidays because of all this new technology?
A: For an easy life, parents will give their child tablets and phones to play with and leave them to it. However, a fifth of children over Easter will be using apps considered ‘risky’ to children, so it’s vital to monitor what your child is doing and talk to them about the potential dangers faced online. It’s the new ‘birds and the bees’ chat of our times.
Q: How do I know whether my broadband is set up to filter out inappropriate content, like porn or violence?
A: Most ISPs (Internet Service Providers, the companies who provide your broadband) won’t automatically set filters. If your child is able to access inappropriate content, then you’ll need to set your parental controls – this is actually really easy to do and isn’t time-consuming either. There’s a handy guide on our website which takes you through the process step-by-step.
Q: What age is it appropriate for my child to be using social media?
A: Social media companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have strict age restrictions in place already – you’re currently not allowed to use those apps if you’re under 13 years old. Of course children will be curious to use those sites before that age, but we recommend sticking to those guidelines. At that age, kids will have a better understanding of the world around them, what is appropriate to post and who they should and shouldn’t be talking to.
Q: What should I do if I find out my child is being cyberbullied?
A: The first and most important thing to do is give them your full emotional support – your child is most likely feeling rather upset and vulnerable. There are also further steps you can take to help your child; cyberbullies are looking for a reaction, so you should advise your child not to reply to them in any way; sit down with your child and record what’s happened, logging texts, printing emails or taking screenshots; block the bullies by removing them as a ‘friend’ or blocking their calls and messages; don’t deny your child access to technology – one of the main reasons children don’t report cyberbullying is because they fear their device will be taken away from them, so moderate your child’s use of the phone or tablet instead.
Carolyn has also given us her top ten tips to help keep your children safe online this Easter.
1. Set your broadband parental controls. BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media all offer free controls that allow you to choose what your child can access online.
2. Search safely. Google has a feature called SafeSearch where you can filter out adult content from search results.
3. Set Restricted Mode on YouTube, which, like Google SafeSearch, filters out adult content from search results.â€¨
4. If your child has a mobile phone check the mobile network parental controls are set. All main network operators offer this free service.â€¨
5. Check your app store settings to make sure your child can only download apps which are age-appropriate and that they can’t make in-app purchases. You may not want to give them the password.
6. If your child has a games console, check the parental controls setting so you know if they are playing online with others, or using their social media or browsing capabilities.
7. If your child is using social networks, check the privacy settings to make sure that they are only sharing and chatting with people they know.
8. It’s Easter holidays and you’ll more likely spend more time with your children than normal. Get familiar with how your child uses the internet through regular conversations. And ask them to show you what they enjoy doing most on the internet.â€¨â€¨
9. Make sure your child knows they can come to you without fear or judgment if something they see upsets them or makes them feel uncomfortable.
10. Finally, always remember that you play a major part as a role model for how your children behave. So you might want to give some thought about how your child sees you using the internet.