There has been much discussion and debate around the issue of kid’s and their safety online - there have even been proposed laws to make it illegal for retailers to sell an internet-enabled device to a child younger than 14. Whether you agree with this or think it’s a step too far, there is no denying that it is increasingly important for parent’s to be aware of their kid’s online activities, the apps they use and how they engage with them. Personally, I think it depends on the kids and if the parents are happy for them to use smartphones, but be smart about it! Supervision and education are key. The internet and technology are here to stay.
Kids aren’t going to suddenly become safe online at a certain age. Parents need to be part of the process and need to empower their kids to use the internet and apps in a safe, informed and appropriate way. This is not just for their own education or development, it could even keep them out of getting in serious trouble with the law.
I have had cases, and they are becoming more common, where children are sharing extremely inappropriate images of themselves (otherwise known as sexting - taking or sharing explicit images or video using a mobile phone), and not realising that they are in fact, in possession of and distributing child pornography, as per The Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998, which has recently been amended by The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 2017.
Help them understand the law. This includes:
- Possessing, taking or distributing images of someone who is under the age of 18 is illegal in Ireland.
- This could even be argued if the person in the photo is a minor, and the one distributing, in possession of or taking the photographs.
- If a child's mobile phone contract is in his or her parent's name, then the parent can be liable for what the phone is used for, and any indecent material that is saved or sent from it.
In 2017, CyberSafeIreland reported that:
- Despite age restrictions of 13 and older on many social media services, the vast majority of children under 13 that they met already had a significant online presence.
- Snapchat and Instagram remained the most popular instant messaging and social media apps along with Musical.ly YouTube, Viber and WhatsApp amongst the 628 children surveyed.
- 22% of the children surveyed were in online contact with strangers. Most of these (14%) reported that they were in contact at least once a week and 6% of this number every day.
- Nearly a third (32%) of children surveyed have either never spoken to their parents/guardians about online safety or have not done so in the last year.
- In almost two-thirds (64%) of the workshops with 8-10 year olds, at least one child was playing adult rated games.
These are, of course serious and worrying issues for parents - but denying access to the internet won’t make these problems disappear. Instead, support and safeguard your kids with their online use. Many parents feel more digital education should be taught in schools and although a very good idea, greater parental responsibility is needed too. It’s a much more realistic and effective approach than new laws or regulations.
Put the power back in your hands. For any parents wondering what they can do, check the parental controls on devices. These are technical settings that you can use to restrict or control content or activities for your child on a particular app, device or network. As the old phone campaign told us, ‘It’s good to talk’, but in a very different context to what they had meant then. 'It's good to talk' to your kids about how they use their smartphones, now. Once they press the send button, they will no longer have control of the image or the consequences of sending it. And unlike Las Vegas - what happens on the Internet stays on the Internet.
For more, check out CyberSafeIreland at http://cybersafeireland.org/