You’d think that someone who spent their working day online (me) would be a bit more savvy when it came to parental controls. You might imagine I’d be all over it, with all sorts of safety mechanisms in place to protect Belle from internet nasties.
The truth is that I’m actually pretty rubbish.
I was very strict initially about social media, and she had to beg me to let her set up an Instagram account when she was about 12 years old and was the last in her class to have one. She’s not on Facebook as far as I know, but I’m pretty sure she has a Twitter account. On the one hand, my attitude has been led by Belle. I know that she is probably far more safety conscious than me online and she just isn’t the sort of child who would want to access inappropriate material. (Yes I know, all parents say that, but it’s true.) She’s much more likely to be sharing photos of the girls from Dance Moms or watching make-up tutorials.
What I should take more account of though, is that a lot of the time it’s not just about what the child might want to be looking at, it’s what they will see accidentally. What they are searching for might be innocent enough, but it only takes a typo, or a double meaning, and the results can be far from innocent.
To make the point, I just googled the word ‘doggy’. Just that one word, on it’s own. It’s the kind of thing that any child might innocently search for, hoping for information about puppies. These were the top three results:
That makes the point nicely I think.
So why haven’t I set up parental controls sooner?
Basically I just don’t really understand what I’m meant to do. Do you know what? No. Even that is an excuse, because I’m not stupid and if I’d wanted to then I could have done a bit of research and got clued up. So what is it that holds so many parents back from learning how to properly protect kids online? Is it fear? Are we burying our heads in the sand, pretending it’s not a problem? If we start to look into it, perhaps we worry that the results will be just too terrifying.
Because it is scary:
- Childline has seen a 60% year on year increase in counselling sessions with children left worried after seeing porn online.
- NSPCC research found that children were as likely to find pornography accidentally, as to deliberately search for it.
- Web traffic to the NSPCC’s parent advice on protecting young people from the impact of porn has increased by 58% during 2016.
That’s not cool is it?
No more excuses. I’m going to tell you, in the simplest possible terms, what you can do to keep your children safe on the internet.
The NSPCC and O2
To help all of those parents in the same boat as me, floating around on the sea of ignorance, the NSPCC has partnered with O2. The aim of the partnership is to support parents with the knowledge, skills and practical help needed to keep children safe online. And all of this is available for free, whether you’re an O2 customer or not.
I think this is a genius idea for a collaboration. The NSPCC have years of experience of keeping children safe and O2 have the technical expertise to be able to help parents set up parental controls that are right for them and their family. January is key time for this campaign, as so many children will have received new gadgets for Christmas – how many of us have followed up these gifts by setting up parental controls and initiating a talk about internet safety?
What can I do to keep my child safe online?
There are plenty of quick and easy things that you can do to help keep your child safe online.
- Visit the NSPCC website or call their helpline on 0808 800 5002 and speak to an expert. This helpline has been set up purely to help with internet safety questions and is completely free. Don’t be afraid that you’re asking a stupid question – there is no such thing.
- Book an appointment now with an in-store O2 Guru. They’ll be able to talk you through your options and set up the relevant controls on your devices to help keep your child safe. NB: You don’t need to be an O2 customer to access this service.
- If you use Google as your main search engine, it’s very easy to switch on SafeSearch filter. Just go to your search settings and tick the box. You could also think about switching to a search engine designed just for children, like Swiggle.
- The big four internet providers – Sky, BT, Virgin and TalkTalk – all have built in parental controls. Find out how to set them up here.
- If your child watches TV on demand through their phone or tablet you can set up parental controls via the provider, whether that’s BBC, 4OD, Netflix etc. Find out how here.
- Use the settings on your devices to make sure your child can’t make in-app purchases, if you’re worried about them accidentally spending money.
- YouTube has its own online safety centre, which has lots of resources for parents to help keep children safe whilst using YouTube. It allows you to set up a restricted mood to filter out some content but also has some good information about cyber-bullying and self-harm.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, talk to your children about internet safety and the importance of protecting yourself and taking care whilst online. These conversations are crucial from an educational point of view, but they are important too in terms of keeping dialogue open more generally. The last thing you want is for your child to see something disturbing online and then not feel able to talk to you about it – encouraging honest, regular discussions about the internet means that they are far more likely to come to you if something does go wrong.
These conversations become more and more important as your children get older. If you think of parental controls as a bit like stabilisers on a bike, at some point they are going to have to come off, and you need to prepare your child for this as best you can. You want to reach the point where you feel they are equipped to manage their own safety, rather than just having it controlled for them.
It’s a tough balance though. (Just like riding a bike.)
Remember – innocent searches can lead to not to innocent results.
Get advice, take action and stay safe.
As a UK charity almost 90% of the NSPCC’s funding is from generous people like you, who care about the safety of children. If you’ve found this advice useful you can support the NSPCC with a donation.