Friday, 26 October 2012

Protecting children in a digital world

A report published recently found that British children aged between nine and 16 spend over 100 minutes each day on the internet.

The researchers from LSE who carried out the study also found that half of UK children go online using a mobile device which, they noted, put ‘them in the vanguard of new risks associated with personal internet access and, equally, making protective oversight by their parents more difficult.’

This information comes just a week after another survey revealed that parents are increasingly worried about their children accessing potentially harmful material on mobile phones. Although mobile networks do automatically block access to adult content on their own networks modern devices with a wi-fi capability mean that children could still potentially access such material unless further filters are installed.

This is of great concern as by the age of 13 nearly all children in the UK own a mobile phone yet almost a third of parents are unaware of safety tools which can help to protect their children.

We are awaiting the outcome of the Government’s recent consultation into online safety and it is to be hoped that a default block on harmful material unless users specifically opt in to view it, will be recommended. We think this will offer children the most protection but, in the meantime, it is vital that parents engage with online safety issues.

It is not enough to trust websites to have policies in place to protect children. Earlier this year the sexualised content routinely found on the children’s social network Habbo Hotel was exposed. John Carr of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety has said that he believes self-regulation of social networking sites to be ‘a big con’.

He suggests that online brands should be more closely regulated by external organisations such as Ofcom or legislation should be introduced to force companies to adopt online safety guidelines.

This is an important issue; although Facebook and most other social networks require children to be a least 13 years old before they sign up, 28% of nine and 10 years olds have an online profile. We cannot afford to take risks with their future.

  • If you need help with protecting your children online please visit our website which has been updated with sources of information that you will find useful.
  • You can also find information on online safety at UK Safer Internet Centre.  Next year Safer Internet Day will take place on 5th February with the theme 'Online Rights and Responsibilities' and the organisation is running a Have Your Say survey on children's internet use, the results of which will be handed to the Government on Safer Internet Day.  Please consider sharing details of this initiative with children and those responsible for caring with them.  It will be a great way for them to bring their concerns about online safety to the attention of the Government.

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