Promoting internet safety on mobile devices

  • Awareness
  • 13/04/2017
  • Guest blogger - Helen Taylor

Here on the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal, our aim is to provide a multi-stakeholder platform showcasing a range of viewpoints and experiences on keeping children and young people safe online. As such, we welcome guest blog posts on our areas of focus. We were recently contacted by Helen, a freelance writer and mother, passionate about ensuring a future where her boys can safely navigate the internet. Here, she talks about the importance of promoting internet safety on mobile devices.

Internet safety is of the upmost importance to many parents, with a large number reporting that they aim to limit how much access their children have to the internet, and regularly review what their children are doing online. This is good practice and excellent advice. However, a new study has found that, for the first time in 2016, the proportion of children accessing the internet on a PC, laptop or netbook fell, by three percentage points, year on year, to 88 per cent: as mobile internet technology continues to develop and increase in popularity, we can only expect to see that figure drop further in the next decade, and that moves the goalposts significantly for many parents when it comes to keeping their children safe online.

More children accessing the internet
Research published in 2016 as part of the LSE Media Policy project found that children from lower-income households where the parents were less well-educated were likely to spend more time online than those children whose families were more affluent or had higher levels of education. What's more, these children felt less able to ask their parents for support (in all areas, including internet safety) and had parents who practiced fewer active mediation strategies. While many parents are concerned about helping their children keep their phones and tablets safe from loss or accidental damage (with anecdotal evidence showing that younger children are prone to dropping and smashing the screens of their devices), they are often less concerned about what their children are doing with those devices and forget that those devices can be used to access the internet from anywhere. It is just as important (if not more so) to protect your children online when they are using their own mobile device as it is when they are using a laptop or PC in the traditional sense. It's time to educate parents about the importance of internet safety, regardless of their education level or annual income.

Know what your children are doing online
In 2014, research found that just over 20 per cent of parents do not monitor what their children are doing online on their tablets or smartphones. While this figure is likely to have improved in the three years since the research was conducted, it shows that more needs to be done to help parents keep their children safe. This is the most important thing that you can do: monitor what your child is doing, be aware of what sites they are accessing and what images they are viewing. Some parents worry that this will be considered an invasion of their child's privacy; if you have this concern then make your child aware that you will be conducting regular and random checks of their device, and that you are doing so because you love them and because you want to keep them safe. If you're children are tech-savvy then it's important that you get tech-savvy too… and fast! Children are most at risk from the dangers of online predators, cyberbullying and sexting when their parents are uninformed about the dangers of the internet and do not know how to protect them. In order to know what your children are doing online, you need to be able to navigate your way around their phone or tablet as dexterously as they can themselves: if you feel you are lacking in the skills to do this, why not book a course or ask a more informed family member to support you?

The importance of education
As well as educating yourself about the dangers of the internet on smart devices, it's also important to educate your children. Many children are aware about the dangers of cyberbullying and predators on the internet, but don't know how to recognise the signs that it is happening to them. Keeping the lines of communication open with your children is key; encourage them to put their mobile devices down and engage with you in a context that doesn't involve screen time. Why not enjoy a walk outside, or head to the park to kick a football around? This bonding time is also the ideal time to discuss internet safety. Doing a little research online could help you to quickly find some information to share with your children on the most common issues, and use this as an opportunity to allow them to ask questions about anything they are unsure about, or share any online experiences they have had with you. The key is to help your child understand what is considered to be risky in a practical way and, by sharing this information together, they will also know that you are prepared to support and help them should something unexpected or concerning happen.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal, European Schoolnet (EUN), the European Commission (EC) or any related organisations or parties.

About the author of this article:
Helen Taylor is a freelance writer and mother. She is passionate about ensuring a future where her boys can safely navigate the internet by empowering parents and children with safe internet protocols.

If you would like to contribute a guest blog post to the BIK portal, find out more at www.betterinternetforkids.eu/contentcontributions.

References :
"One in three children now have their own tablet computer", Ofcom
"Family and screen time: current advice and emerging research", Parenting for a Digital Future
"Gadget Insurance", Quote Zone
"Parents unaware of dangers faced by children on smartphones", BBC News
"Mobile phone safety for children", Better Health Channel
"Mobile phones, mobile dangers: Protecting children with cellphones", Computer World

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