Tuesday 5 February 2013

Safer Internet Day - Protecting Kids on the Internet

Today is  "Safer Internet Day" across the world and recently, I have been giving the issue of internet safety a lot of consideration. Since eldest started her own blog, I have become a lot more aware of keeping her identity safe online, and keeping a handle on the amount of personal information she posts about herself in the public domain.

I consider myself (along with millions of others) as one of the first generations of parents who have had to give consideration to the issue of keeping my children safe on the internet. I was eighteen when I first started using the internet, and so I didn't have my mother watching over my shoulder and checking up on what I was posting online. Back then, the internet was so new, and social media wasn't mainstream, and so the concern of kids sharing too much personal information with complete strangers wasn't as widespread as it is now. Search Engines and their ability to manipulate information were not as sophisticated as today, and so even if the information was out there, it was harder to find.

Nowadays, my daughter's generation - classed as "digital natives" are perceived to be far more about adept at technology than us older "digital immigrants" who have had to adapt out way of life to include technology.  The way that my six and three year olds can negotiate an iPad and iPhone is unbelievable. The way that they can switch between various digital formats via the TV is quite remarkable, and the way that my six year old has taken to blogging, writing her own posts, adding pictures and negotiating a new format without too much trouble, just goes to show that children are easily embracing the technology they are surrounded by.

Since keeping kids safe online is not something that has been handed down from my parents generation, hubby and I are having to make up our own rules when it comes to internet safety. We both like to consider ourselves pretty internet savvy and so hopefully we have a pretty good handle on keeping our kids safe online and monitoring their activity - but sometimes.... things still slip through the net.

For example:
A harmless Google Image search by eldest and her friends last week for "cute fluffy kittens" or the like, still managed to produce quirky images of cats which contained the "F" word. A well-meaning video search on YouTube led to them watching cute kittens playing, followed by some quick on-the-spot parental intervention to stop them from clicking on a link from that video, to a video of some "provocative sex kittens" playing.

Even if kids don't go searching for anything untoward on the internet, it is so easy to find - and often they may come across it completely by accident. At the moment, our girls are only allowed to access the internet on any format downstairs, within our view, where we can keep an eye on the information that they are accessing, and make sure that what they are accessing is suitable for their age. As they grow older, we have also resolved not to let them have access to the internet in their rooms. In terms of smart phone access - that one is very much a watch this space, but at the minute, we are not contemplating it until at least senior school!

Recently, in conjunction with her blogging, eldest  asked to join Twitter so she could join in a twitter party on kids blogging. I agreed and signed her up - but the account is currently in my name. She enjoyed the twitter party very much, and I was glad to give her the chance to experiment with twitter in a safe environment, whilst being able to talk to her about what she should and maybe should not post via twitter to help her gain an understanding of how to use twitter safely.

Eldest is loving the freedom of creativity that blogging allows her. However, within freedom, also comes rules, and so we have had to come up with ways to enable her to blog and share information, but also keep her personal information safe online. Hubby and I have spoken with eldest about why it is important not to share personal details on the internet and the implications that this could have.

These are the rules we have come up with for our little ones so far, and I think at the moment that they are probably sufficient, although I'm sure they will change over time as the girls get older and begin to use other forms of social media.
  • Always use a pseudonym so that your real name and identity is not in the public domain. 
  • Always use a pseudonym for your friends and young family members.
  • No naming your school, or posting photos in your school uniform.
  • No personal details which could identify where you live, your birth date etc.
  • No photos with identifying features.

Others Disclosing A Child's Identity
As a parent, another way I try to keep my children's identities safe online is by regularly putting their names into Search Engines such as Google, and searching for websites and images which their names may be linked to. I would encourage all parents to do the same. This way, I can keep on top of what websites my children are being featured on, and if necessary, request for their personal details to be amended or removed.

Ironically, it seems that most often it is schools, or activity groups who are placing children's identities onto the internet and into the public domain - sometimes without the knowledge of the child's parents. Although those posting online may be doing it in a well meaning manor, or as a means to advertise their business or group, they may not always be internet savvy enough to give consideration to how sophisticated search engines are at crawling the internet to find the information that users are searching for.

By placing a child's name and surname online, either on a website, or in a newsletter which has been placed online, search engines are able to pick up the name of the child and link it to their primary or senior school, swim club, dance school, or football club. If someone were to be searching for the location of that child, this would then give them a pretty good idea of which location they resided in, and the kind of activities they were interested in. Some might say that this would form quite a good basis of knowledge for someone to start grooming a child over the internet - by talking to them about where they lived, and their local school or club.

Images displayed on a website may also show up in a search if the child's name is featured on that website - as may links from that websites to other websites that they are featured in.

Sometimes, schools or clubs may feature children in a local newspaper, and a copy of that article is placed online. For example - last year some pupils from my daughter's school were featured in a newspaper article celebrating some fundraising. The article from the newspaper was then posted online, and now, if you search for the names of the children pictured in the article, there is a link to a picture of them, in their school uniforms on the newspaper website. This discloses their names, ages and the school that they attend. Parents consenting to photos in a school or club environment may consent to their child's details being used in print, but may not be happy with their identities being immortalised on the internet, and they may not realise that their children's details are being used in this way. As a parent, if you feel strongly about having your child's identity featured on the internet, it is essential to make it clear to your local school or club that you do not want your child's identity featured in this way.

As a school or club staff member, it is vital to consider internet safety when featuring and identifying children on the internet who are too young to consent to their identity being broadcast so publicly. If you feature children on a website or in a newsletter, just using a child's first name should be sufficient and will keep their identity safe. If you have visitors such as journalists photographing the children for any kind of media, request that only their first names are used, and do not divulge their last names.

Often journalists will want to use a child's full name rather than a first name in their articles as they feel that it lends more credibility to their story. However, if this article is to be placed online, this means that the article will forever be immortalised on the internet. The digital age is so young, that it could mean that this article will remain in cyberspace for the rest of someone's life. It also means that their identity is easily searchable and easy to find by anyone in the world.

Schools and groups working with children, and anyone featuring children in articles online need to be aware of posting children's identities on the internet, and I would hope that they would only use first names, rather than full names so that children are able to remain anonymous. Even if children are not known to be at risk or  in any imminent danger, there may be parents who would not particularly want people from their present or their past searching for the identity of their kids, and there may be some kids, who have perhaps gained prominence through one form or another, who would like to remain anonymous and do not want people to find out the school or activities they attend.

I think that children of primary school age (and some of secondary age) are too young to consent to their identity being out there in the public domain, and so as parents and carers, it is our job to keep their identities protected, until such a time as they are old enough to have their own say.

How do you keep your child(ren) safe on the internet?

Do you think more should be done by schools and organisations working with children to keep their identities safe?

1 comment:

  1. Schools are very vigilant in orienting the kids about the proper use of the internet today. The alarming rate of cybercrimes directed against the children is one of the concerns that a parent must reconsider in allowing their children to wander beyond the electronic world. Depriving them with net use is considerably selfish, because of the information and other advantages that this technology can provide for the kids. Tablets, smartphones, pc and other devices that can readily access the internet should be rigorously monitored to deter any cyber-attacks or bullying. These phones are also used for emergency purpose, but simple phones like Just5, designed for kids can also do this without the worries of connecting to the internet.



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