Building a Safety Net
The internet has opened up amazing possibilities for all of us, but it is children who are its most avid consumers
The benefits are clear when it comes to helping with their studies. But it is the social aspects they most enjoy that raises fear in some parents.
It is important for us to ensure parents know what they need to do to provide a safety net for youngsters’ on-line activities. It can be difficult for parents because they don’t always understand the technology and because children like to use the internet in private. Keeping in touch with friends – and making new ones – has never been so easy and this is one of the biggest attractions of the internet. Along with games, one of the most popular past times is instant messaging, joining internet clubs and communities or going into chat rooms and newsgroups.
Obviously, because of the nature of the internet, you can’t always see the person who you are communicating with and so you can never be certain that the other person is who they say they are. On the internet, it is important to exercise a high degree of caution when meeting strangers for the first time and it is important to stress this to children. If parents become worried and simply ban an activity, there is a chance their children will continue secretly. Try and get them to tell you what they have been doing and who they have been chatting with. And in the same way you warn your children about talking to strangers in the street, parents should emphasise the need for caution and reinforce the message not to give out personal details. The advice is to keep on-line friends on-line.
The UK experience of partnerships involving government, law enforcement, children’s protection bodies and the communications industry has proved very successful. As chair of the Home Secretary’s Taskforce for Child Protection on the Internet, I know how a successful partnership approach can make real progress. This spirit of partnership helped lead the development of the new Child Exploitation and On-line Protection (CEOP) Centre.
The Centre provides a single point of contact for the public, law enforcers and the communications industry to report targeting of children on-line. CEOP is working with parents, young people and children to safeguard their on-line experiences and offering direct support to victims and their families 24 hours a day. More information about CEOP can be found at www.ceop.gov.uk
“The Home Office does what it can to protect our children, working closely with the related agencies and partners.”
By working together, the Taskforce has also been involved in a project that is seeking to develop a Publicly Available Specification (PAS) for rating, filtering and monitoring software with the British Standards Institute. This will lead to a kitemark standard being available later this year for software products which meet the PAS.
Let’s not discourage children from exploiting the benefits of the internet. By increasing internet literacy and offering reassurance through public awareness campaigns, hopefully we aim to give parents and their children confidence to enjoy being on-line – but safely.
Parents can find further advice on how to keep children safer online at www.internetsafetyzone.com and encourage children to look for safety advice themselves at www.thinkuknow.co.uk
Vernon Coaker MP, is the Home Office Under-Secretary for Police and Security and Chair of the Taskforce for Child Protection on the Internet