Tuesday’s Safer Internet Day provided a timely reminder that, although the internet provides many benefits, it can, unless managed carefully, expose children to ideas, influences and images which are inappropriate and potentially harmful.
We are all aware of the risks of on-line grooming and the exposure of children to pornographic images. It is important that all parents take robust steps to prevent children from accessing harmful influences deliberately or inadvertently. Parental controls (used by only 56% of parents) and close supervision are vital in this regard. For advice, go to the UK Safer Internet Centre at http://www.saferinternet.org.uk/. The specific page on parental controls is http://www.saferinternet.org.uk/advice-and-resources/parents-and-carers/parental-controls.
Bullying through social media – cyberbullying – is a prevalent cause of anguish among children and young people and wise parents keep a very close eye on their children’s use of phones and computers. Talking to children about their use of social media and reminding them of protocols and actions to take if they witness or experience cyberbullying is vitally important.
Parents may be less aware that many television programmes, including apparently innocuous ‘soaps’, are, increasingly, including adult themes. The 9 o’clock watershed is no longer a safe rule of thumb, and in any case if children have BBC i-player they can watch whatever they want. While parents might monitor the viewing of programmes in their living rooms, it is important to be aware that a child with a television in his/her bedroom, or unsupervised access to BBC i-player, has ready access to adult material.
And we should not forget that computer games are not all suitable for children. The British Board of Film Classification system provides guidance and parents are strongly urged to observe the age ratings: U, PG, 12A, 12, 15 and 18. A popular example of an unsuitable 18-rated game is Grand Theft Auto. This is a violent urban dystopia of gun fights, car chases, pole dancers and prostitutes, where d spatters realistically on the ‘camera lens’. Parents need to recognise that their children may come under peer pressure to get involved in such games, say a firm ‘no’, and educate them about the risks involved and the reasons for the published age limits.
Skype is a great way of keeping in touch with friends but conversations are not always restricted to classmates. Unbeknown to their parents, children can communicate with others whom you or your child might not know and whose language or morals might not be what you would want your child to be exposed to.
Please be alert to these dangers. Restrict access, supervise use and, above all, educate your children about appropriate use of electronic media. Children are curious, gullible and easily influenced, and they need to be protected from exposure to adult material, be it pictures, violent games, bad language or worse.