Young People Online, the Challenge for Parents
I recently attended an interactive and comprehensive discussion for parents with George Knell from Bee Secure which is a joint initiative with Kanner Jungend Telefon funded by the Ministries of Education, Family and Economy as part of the national youth service in Luxembourg. Bee Secure is part of an international network of Safer Internet Centres worldwide. George gave a presentation and answered questions regarding the modern day challenges for parents keeping their children safe when using the Internet and other social networking technologies. This is an overview of the points covered in the presentation.
What do we like to do Online – an introduction to our Online habits?
As an introduction to the session George asked parents what was their favorite thing to do online?; what they thought were the dangers of being online?; and their expectations for the evening.
The parents expectations included wanting to know more about:-
- How do we safeguard our children online?
- How can parents practically put safeguards in place?
- How to educate children about dangers online (private verses public life)
- How to cope when things are developing online so fast? How to know what’s new out there? How to keep up with emerging technologies?
- How to get children to understand the difference between ‘real’ contact with friends and imaginary contact with friends (they don’t know) online?
- How to encourage young people to get a balance between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ life.
The Passive verses Interactive Web
The Internet was once a place where people looked for things; information, news, where to go for etc. It was considered to be an extension of the local library but today the Web is much more interactive. Everyone is able to upload information, comment on it, download it and actively participate in it. Many adults generally use the internet to exchange information via e-mail, use social networking sites, shop and search (as seen in their answers to their favorite thing to do online). Children and young people use the internet and other devises for everything, but often prefer using it in the ‘real time’ e.g. texting verses e-mail. They prefer immediate responses and as a form of self-expression. It is considered to be the perfect place for teenagers who are often looking to express their emerging identity – who they are, or play with the persona of who they would like to be. They also like ‘instant gratification’ which today makes the Internet the perfect place to do this. But there are dangers parents need to be aware of.
Good verses Bad Sites
Recent research (SAFT) reveals that 15-20 percent of the internet website content includes pornography, and that it is estimated nearly 100 percent of 13-14 year old boys have seen some form of pornography online. But they are not informed that these images are not ‘real’ i.e. that these sites only deal with sex but not feelings, emotions and relationships. They only get half the story and don’t understand that these are actors. Young people need good sex and relationship education which includes all that they are missing otherwise; they can become confused, misinformed or even frightened by what they are seeing online.
There are sites for example to do with Eating Disorders where young girls and boys actively encourage each other to harm themselves by sharing stories, pictures and ways to lose even more weight. Parents need to be aware about whether their children are using these sites as it may lead to serious consequences.
Disturbing or Violent Images
Some sites are set up to collect ideas or images which are disturbing with the intent to shock or distress other people. Children may ‘dare’ each other to look at these sites without understanding the possible consequences.
Racist or other sites intending to offend
There are some sites that a child could come across by mistake when searching quite innocently for a history assignment. Young people need to be informed about the danger of this so they can begin to understand good research sites versus misinformed or sites that intend to offend.
Why can these sites exist, and what can we do about them?
In a lot of countries these kinds of sites and their content is illegal. If anyone comes across such sites they can complain to their local Internet safety regulator (Bee Secure STOPLINE in Luxembourg). They will look into each complaint and where possible remove illegal content from the Web. However, in some countries it is believed that ‘freedom of speech’ should allow anyone to upload and even maintain sites that include the above. These sites can only be taken offline if they are hosted in a country that outlaws such contents. Added to this the rate of upload onto the Internet every minute of everyday makes it difficult to identify these sites. If a complaint is about child pornography or related child protection issues generally this content will be removed quickly in most regions. Reports will also be made to local Police.
Added to this list are sites where people can download music, videos, games etc. illegally. Parents need to warn their children that this is not only illegal but that it is often a way for virus’s to get into their computers. There are also affordable alternatives that are available in Luxembourg e.g. Netflix
Keeping Young People Safe Online
Using Child Friendly Search Engines
These are mainly designed for children under the age of 12 (Primary school age). They provide a controlled and informative way for children to search the Web. All content available to these search engines is monitored and generally educational. Bee Secure suggest that parents install these engines as their starting page /browser on any device a younger child might use. Parents could encourage their use by showing children how effective these search engines are for homework because they do not have to trawl through 1000’s of possibly irrelevant articles – they save time for more fun stuff! Up to date lists of Child Friendly Search Engines can be obtained from Bee Secure. We have included some examples in our resource section.
George went on to demonstrate that even such a benign topic such as ‘old granny’ could bring up pornographic and other inappropriate images through a general search online. This was a real example from a Luxembourgish school. It is possible to ‘block’ such images using a ‘safe search’ setting or alternative parental controls but the problem is that these often lead to ‘over blocking’ and frustration for all the family. There is a recognized benchmark for such programmes called SIP-BENCH (safer internet program) where parents can explore online parental controls.
Some Guidance for Parents:
- Dialogue Speak with your child about their life ‘online’. You might ask them what they did today at school, but do you ask them what they did ‘online’ in the last hour?
- Learn Something New There is a recognized ‘digital gap’ between parents and their children. Parents need to take more interest in what their children are doing ‘online’, to learn about social networking and other forms communication online. Children are often more ‘computer- savvy’ than their parents especially about new technologies, games and other trends online. The best guidance for parents is to ask their child to show them what’s new, what do they enjoy playing, looking at and sharing with their friends.
- Rules According to Age Each family needs to have family rules about computer use in the home. Try to involve young people when setting these and review them together. General guidance for children under 12years old is not to have computers or other Internet devises in their rooms or other unsupervised places. These are better used in ‘open’ family spaces e.g. a corner of the living room or kitchen. These rules can also include the amount of ‘screen time’ acceptable to the family.
- It’s all about Balance Parents need to recognise the positive effects of computer and Internet use as well as the negative effects. The positive effects can include improved hand eye coordination, and the possible development of team or leadership skills. The negative effects like increased agitation due to over -stimulation, isolation, difficulties adjusting to ‘real’ world can be countered by limiting ‘screen time’ and ensuring a balance with other activities. The recent Bee Secure message that trainers took into Luxembourg schools was all about recognizing that if young people are missing out on social contact with friends, activities, hobbies or family time because they are spending so much time online then their lives are out of balance. The message to parents is the same. If your children are doing ok at school, meeting up with friends, exercising and taking part in extra curricular activities then the amount of time they are spending online is not a problem. As parents and role models to our children we also need to think about our own ‘online versus offline’ balance.
The Bee Secure Helplines
George gave an overview of the Bee Secure Helplines.
Bee Secure is a service with international links as part of a European network. The Bee Secure Helpline offers information and advice to anyone in Luxembourg (in English) who has questions or concerns about the Internet. This can include questions about security, e-crime, fraud and cyber bullying. The Bee Secure Stopline allows anyone to anonymously report what they feel to be illegal content on the internet. The staff will then investigate by either addressing the problem in Luxembourg or reporting this to host country of the site. Bee Secure is part of the Kanner Jungend Telefon service in Luxembourg which also offers an Online Help service for parents concerned with any question to do with parenting.
Areas of Particular Concern to Parents
Contact with Strangers online
Young people can have 1000’s of ‘friends-online’ but how many of these people do they actually know personally? There is a very real danger of child predators (pedophiles) who pretend to be children or ‘friends’ to get to know and possibly groom a child for meeting face to face. Children should be made aware that people online may not be what or who they appear to be and they must never give personal details or contact information online. Bee Secure have several videos to help educate parents and children about this threat, they can be viewed on the Bee Secure channel on YouTube. For more information and videos to share with your children see the Passage website resources section.
Parents need to be aware of the possible signs that their child is being targeted in this way. These might include a change in behaviour or habits, not eating or sleeping, increased checking of texts or emails, complaints about headaches or stomachaches or any signs that something is wrong. For more information about Cyber Mobbing or Bullying see the Passage website resources section.
Young people using web cams or sending explicit photos by text – SEXTING
This is a more recent trend with sites that claim that photos received will be deleted within a short time frame e.g. Instagram. This is a problem because children do not understand that a ‘screen shot’ can be made as a permanent copy and shared, or that by it’s very nature once an image is ‘out there’ in the public domain it is very difficult to guarantee that it has really been deleted.
Parents often feel pressured to buy video games that children claim their peers to have. At PEGI (Pan European Game Information) parents can check on video game rating which include appropriateness for age range, and whether the game includes violence, sexuality, gambling etc.
According to Bee Secure everyone should have an effective and up-to-date:
- ANTI VIRUS SOFTWARE
- UPDATES TO ALL SYSTEMS
When thinking about our online life we need to ask ourselves:
- What does the world know about me?
- What am I posting in the public domain?
- Would I be happy for my mother, neighbor or future employer to see it?
- How effective are my passwords at protecting me from e-crime?
Effective passwords do not make sense
They are over 10 characters and include, upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols @£$%^&*! A trick of the trade is to use a little song or rhyme as a mnemonic remember them.
THINK BEFORE YOU POST PICTURES ONLINE!
Finally the message to all parents and young people was to remember that:
- One time posting of a photo is forever online. We need to stop and think about whether our semi naked ‘cute’ photo of our child might either fall into the wrong hands or maybe embarrassing to our 18 year old in the future about to embark into the world of work.
- Before posting pictures including our friends we might need to think about getting their permission. There are laws in Luxembourg protecting our ‘right to our own image ‘ and protecting us against sexual predators but we need to be proactive in our own homes first.
Further Information: Useful Links
If you are concerned about your child or have any questions about parenting in Luxembourg you can contact the Online Parent service in English at the Kanner Jugend Telefon
Bee Secure: Is the Luxembourg based safer internet centre (SIC) which provides advice on how to keep the internet a safer place for children and teenagers internet fraud, and a Stopline to report any illegal content. Bee Secure also offers training for educators and parents.
Bee Secure TV: In addition to the help, parents and children can watch educational videos from all over the world on the Bee Secure YouTube site .
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (UK): NSPCC Facebook site has lots of quality educational videos to share with our children about keeping themselves safe online. Our particular favorite is ‘Have you seen Alex’s Willy’ suitable for all age ranges from 5 years. Please share with your children and other parents.
Digizen (UK): UK website provides information for educators, parents, carers, and young people. It is used to strengthen their awareness and understanding of what digital citizenship is and encourages users of technology to be and become responsible DIGItal citiZENS. It shares specific advice and resources on issues such as social networking and cyberbullying and how these relate to and affect their own and other people’s online experiences and behaviours.
Childnet (UK): Childnet International, a non-profit organisation working with others to help make the internet a great and safe place for children. (UK)
Internet Safety Yoursphere (Parents): This site includes up to date information about digital technology and keeping your family healthy and safe online.
SIP-Bench 3: Is a benchmark tool for educators and parents to use when looking for parental control tools. These tools are software solutions protecting children/teenagers from online threats (e.g. pornography, violence, self-harm, illicit act incitement, sexting, cyberbullying, pedophilia, etc.). However, they should not be used exclusively without talking to children.
Think U Know: A new parents and carers website created by the UK’s National Crime Agency’s CEOP Command. Families can visit to access practical advice and support on how to keep children safe from sexual abuse, both online and off. Articles provide guidance on topics as diverse as: challenging harmful sexual attitudes and promoting positive behaviours; helping a child with autism negotiate life online; supporting a child who has been sexually abused; and dealing with a range of online issues such as sending nude selfies and viewing pornography. Users will find films, downloadable guides and useful links to support organisations.
Further Information: Recommended Reading
Playing Smarter in a Digital World: A Guide to Choosing and Using Popular Video Games and Apps to Improve Executive Functioning in Children and Teens by Randy Kulman PhD (2014)
Internet & Pornography – an interesting article about how young children are accessing pornography on the internet.
Over to you…
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Last updated: Friday 18th December, 2015