"It’s true to say that the vast majority of children, whilst at different levels of risk, will not come to harm. But what can we as parents do to give ourselves a level of assurance that our children are safe and know what to do if they get into an unfamiliar situation, or one that makes them feel uncomfortable?" Alan MacKenzie gives some practical advice.
Risk – a word that can instill fear, anxiety and a whole range of other emotions. It’s such a strong word that can be taken out of context, and it’s often seen as the scaremongering aspect of e-safety. This isn’t helped by sensationalist newspaper headlines used as attention grabbers, ‘Thousands of children at risk…..”.
But risk is simply the probability that something might (or might not) happen; it is the factors that increase or decrease the level of risk that are key such as age, maturity, family values and lifestyle, integrity to name a few. And let's not forget, a certain level of risk is vitally important for our children growing up. If we wrap our children in cotton wool they will never experience risk, which means they won’t be able to identify and mitigate risk if it happens. Children need to build resilience.
So first of all, what is this ‘e-safety’ thing? In truth it’s lots of different things, it’s a massive subject area and there is no formal definition. So for the purposes of this article, e-safety is about giving parents and their children the knowledge to enjoy the use of technology - safely.
This can be quite difficult for some; the internet and technology is something that parents often cite that their children know more than they do. Some may argue that’s not an excuse and up to a point I would agree; for me the most important aspect of e-safety is behaviour, not technology. What do I mean by behaviour? Quite simply children exposed to risk and children exposing themselves to risk. This is sometimes a consequence of not knowing better, sometimes a consequence of risk-taking behaviour which is an integral part of growing up.
What parents can do
It’s true to say that the vast majority of children, whilst at different levels of risk, will not come to harm. But what can we as parents do to give ourselves a level of assurance that our children are safe and know what to do if they get into an unfamiliar situation, or one that makes them feel uncomfortable?
1. First and foremost talk to your school. Schools have been teaching and helping children with e-safety in one form or another for years; in the United Kingdom e-safety is a statutory part of the curriculum. By getting a better understanding of what the school is doing, you can boost your own understanding, help to reinforce those simple safe-use messages and replicate safe-use practices in the home.
2. What devices are your children using? What parental settings are available on those devices? For example, both Playstation and Xbox consoles (as well as many other devices) allow parents to restrict the games and apps that children can download or play based on their age.
3. Does your internet service provider give you access to parental filter controls? Most providers do and often these are free. These allow you to tailor what categories of websites your children are accessing. I recommend you take a look to see if there is a product that suits your circumstances, particularly if you have younger children. Bear in mind that these filtering products are by no means a ‘safety solution’, far from it in fact, particularly if your children are using mobile technologies. The only true solution is education and awareness.
4. Keep up with what is going on. This can be difficult for many reasons such as time, the quality of the advice and the fact that there is so much advice out there - where do you start? One of the easiest ways is to read a monthly newsletter, for example this newsletter (http://www.esafety-adviser.com/latest-newsletter/) is written by me, it’s completely free and has no commercial aspect such as adverts. It’s written simply and concisely to help parents.
Two key things to remember
Two of the most important things to remember are:
1. Take the technology out of the equation, it’s a smoke-screen; put things into a real life context. For example, would you allow your children to be in a crowd of unknown adults who may be swearing, using sexual innuendos or other things inappropriate for children to see and hear? If not, consider which online games they are playing and what age the other players may be. Do you know the age-rating of those games? Are your children playing 18 rated games? If you want to know what a game is all about before you purchase it for your child, go onto YouTube and have a look. It is highly likely there will be videos of other people playing the game. What about the social networking apps they may be using? Are there any age restrictions (commonly 13)? What are they sharing and who with? Would you be happy with this in the real world? Do you know how to use the privacy settings? If not, get your children to show you, again this gives you a level of assurance that they know what they’re talking about.
2. If I was allowed to give only one piece of advice it would be this – talk to your children. As parents we have that parental instinct such as a change in behaviour or attitude. Children need to know they can come to you if something is wrong or if something upsets them. Re-enforce this message, let them know you are there for them. Remember that kids will be kids and risk-taking is a part of growing up. Putting up brick walls or not talking openly could send the behaviour underground, and that increases the level of risk significantly.
About Alan Mackenzie
Alan Mackenzie is passionate about the use of technology, particularly by children and young people. Over many years he has worked with hundreds of schools, organizations, charities and police to advise on the safe and appropriate use of technology. He firmly believes that e-safety is about empowering, not scaremongering; to allow children to enjoy their use of technology – safely. As an independent consultant working within this specialist area, he works in schools to help staff, children and their parents, assists with risk assessments and policy considerations, and writes articles and whitepapers on behalf of other organizations.
To contact Alan:
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