Social networking sites have spiralled in popularity over the last few years – they’re used by over 60 per cent of children between 13 and 17, according to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP). Here children can chat with existing friends, make new friends and post pictures and video clips of themselves.
‘These sites can be a fantastic way for kids to exchange ideas, have fun and widen their circle of friends,’ says Helen Penn of the CEOP. ‘But they need to know that the info they give may make them vulnerable to predators.’ The problem is there’s no real way of telling the identity of the other person your children are chatting to – until they arrange to meet up. A survey by the London School of Economics shows that an alarming one in 12 children has gone on to meet someone they met on the net.
Safe chatting – a parents’ guide
- Ban computers from bedrooms. Keep them in an open area, such as the kitchen or family room, so you’re aware of what your kids are doing and encourage them to talk about their experiences – good or bad – on line with you.
- Use the net. Create your own account on the sites your child uses and check them out for yourself. This will help you understand the potential pitfalls.
- Tell your child never to give out any personal details such as where he lives, the school he goes to – anything that could lead someone to him. Remember photos can be very revealing – showing street names or schools, for instance.
- Make sure your child clicks on the password protection box. On many sites there’s a public profile, which anyone can see, and a private section that can only be accessed by your friends or to people you give out your password to.
- Insist that your child never meets anyone in person that he’s met online and encourage him to chat only with those he already knows.
- Get him to check out a site designed for young kids, where you are able to view and guide what he’s doing online.