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Parents are aware that their children are using the Internet on a daily basis, yet their online activity often still remains a mystery. In 2015, there are few boundaries when it comes to what children can access. Smartphones and tablets have dramatically increased the chance that your child will come across inappropriate material, whether it is sought out or not. From a child’s social media presence to the apps they choose to download and the Google searches they make, parents must not be left in the dark. Whilst admittedly there is no way of 100% controlling your child’s online activity whatever parenting approach you take – be it authoritarian or more permissive – there are, however, several fundamental steps every parent can take to ensure your child is as safe as possible. With the newest threats coming from handheld devices and social media, here is how you can respond to the latest dangers.
Firstly, get to know the threats yourself. Knowing exactly what your child has access to gives you a solid foundation to broach this tricky subject, especially with savvy kids learning to hide their data from prying eyes by using apps such as Applocker and Hideitpro. Whilst certain apps such as the picture-sharing site Instagram or the instant messenger Whatsapp may seem harmless at first, don’t be fooled. These apps are widely open to abuse. Instagram, for example, provides a platform for thousands of users – often anonymous- to share explicit photos, bullying messages, and pro-eating disorder pictures.
Snapchat app for smartphone
Other concerning apps including the hugely popular app Snapchat. This application enables users to send photos and videos instantly to all their contacts, allowing recipients to view them for a set number of seconds. After this time has passed, the content is deleted and unable to be reviewed. Whilst this is certainly an innovative way of communication, Snapchat is extremely open to abuse – most notably the exchange of underage pornographic content – a crime which saw 10 boys aged 13 to 15 arrested in Canada on child pornography charges after the boys allegedly captured and shared explicit photos of teenage girls sent through Snapchat as screenshots. And now with the new Snapcash feature, users can exchange these images for instant cash transfers, opening up a whole new series of concerns and abuses, for which Snapchat takes little responsibility, namely the facilitation of the porn industry. With this is mind, keeping as up-to-date with social media trends and new apps has never been more important. It is important not to feel intimidated by the scope of your child’s online activities. More than anything, this will prevent an informed and frank discussion between children and parents.
What’s more, as children are acquainted with the Internet at such a young age, these frank discussions need to begin earlier. As David Emm, senior security researcher at Internet security company Kaspersky advises, parents need to broach this subject from the outset, i.e. as soon as your child is first introduced to the Internet. Whilst at this stage, your child may always be supervised, it is important nonetheless to highlight that like the world around us, the online world is home to both safe and unsafe content. Parents must discuss boundaries, specifically what is appropriate to share online and what is not. An effective way to instill a mature attitude towards social media is to remind your child that once you post something it is immediately accessible and shareable with essentially the whole online world, regardless of privacy settings. Nothing can truly be erased forever.
Furthermore, as you may or may not be aware, most apps, not just mapping applications – unless negated – keep track of your location through GPS. This leads us to the relatively new phenomenon of live updates and uploads, which give away the exact location of the app user. From Twitter to Instagram and other content sharing sites and applications, the instant upload can be extremely dangerous and useful for criminals. On the flip side, for those parents who wish to restrict or be privy to their child’s online activity, GPS tracking can be extremely useful. Parental control softwares such as PhoneSherrif not only block websites containing explicit content and allow parents to view in- and outgoing calls, photos, messages, emails and other data, they also keep detailed logs of the phone’s location, displaying the parent with GPS coordinates. Whilst some parents may view this spyware as a step too far, the popularity of such software speaks for itself.
“If you wouldn’t do it face to face- Don’t do it online” Shelaigh McManus
Another issue is the widespread negligence towards online privacy. From sharing what we eat for breakfast to our current location, from photos to our political views, social media has become associated with oversharing, a societal tendency which brings with it significant dangers. Take for example Kik: this is a relatively new app which allows users to connect with all their “friends”, regardless of whether they are friends from school or virtual friends from online gaming apps. Now, whilst Kik has recently updated the app to include tools to prevent child exploitation, the dangers are truly terrifying: your child’s privacy if fundamentally at risk.
In response to these threats, one word of advice that stands out is from online safety advocate Shelagh McManus: “If you wouldn’t do it face to face- Don’t do it online”. This can be a simple and effective way to encourage your child to stay away from such online activity. From starting a conversation with a stranger, to posting abusive messages and pictures of drunken nights out, all this can come back to haunt you. The last thing you or your teenager wants is to miss out on a university place or a job down to their social media profile. Ensure your child applies the strictest privacy settings possible on any site that uses or shares personal information. What’s more, make sure your child is aware of the importance of using sensible protective measures, including passwords. With online fraud at an all time high, the importance of information security has never been greater.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The key is to get children excited about using the Internet for learning. Great apps for smartphones and tablets include: WordPress, Words with friends, Procreate, Duolingo, Wattpad and Mathway to name but a few. There are many more aimed at young learners such as: ‘Hooked on Phonics’, Elmer’s Photo Patchwork, Curious Words, Gruffalo:Photo, 3000+ Fractions, Biff, Chip & Kipper Levels 1-6 and Algebra Start – all available to download from the Apple App Store or Google play for Android.
Other great resources are the following websites:
The Internet should be embraced as first and foremost a fun, educational tool.
For more ideas see: http://www.educationalappstore.com/