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Like many parents, I’m aware of the potential dangers lurking online and I want to do all I can to help my family steer clear of those dangers. When my daughters (who are now 22 and 19) were younger, I set the rule that there was to be “no internet upstairs until you’re 16”. Looking back it seems a little extreme perhaps, but it worked for us and after a few grumbles it became just the way it was at home. Although of course as my eldest daughter pointed out at the time, that didn’t stop them having unfettered access to the internet at friends’ houses
And that’s a key issue I think. Internet safety is not just about keeping safe at home with education, supervision, and parental controls on computers – young people have online access via their mobile phones, free wi-fi zones, e-book readers, games consoles, and some television sets. And if as a parent you’re not up to speed with the technology and the potential risks, it’s very difficult to work with your child to reduce the risk of something going wrong, and to know what to do if does.
I can’t keep up! takes you through the basics of the many technologies that are available for accessing the internet – it’s surprising how many there are. Charles also discusses some of the online risks that children might face, and who is most at risk: some of it makes for uncomfortable reading but unfortunately that’s the reality of this aspect of the internet. Most of the time the internet is a wonderful tool that enables access to a wealth of information, entertainment, and communication – we just have to be aware and have the necessary information to minimize the risks and help our families stay safe online.
I can’t keep up! gives you the information you need to know about cyberbullying (the signs to look out for and what to do about it), social networking, parental controls (and what to do in environments such as Facebook where they don’t work), internet predators (including who they target and how and where they find their victims), and inappropriate and harmful web content.
There is also a very useful list of recommended websites where children can learn about how to stay safe online.
I like to think I’m relatively aware and ‘tech-savvy’ when it comes to online safety and privacy, but I still found much new and useful information in I can’t keep up! and I recommend it to all parents and those with responsibility for keeping children safe online.
After I’d read I can’t keep up! I asked Charles a few questions about his book and his thoughts about some aspects of intenet safety.
What first inspired you to write I Can’t Keep Up!?
I work with a lot of parents, teachers, social workers and carers to help them understand the technology kids use to access the ‘net and the risks they might face online.
I’ve found that many parents simply don’t know where to look for the resources they need to find out more about keeping their kids safe online, or just don’t know what they should be looking out for.
And where did the title come from?
The title was one of the hardest things to come up with for the book. I played around with various ideas, including phrases like “digital parenting” and other ‘buzz’ words, but decided on “I Can’t Keep Up!” because it’s the one thing I hear from parents time and time again when they’re talking about their kids and the Internet.
There are many potential dangers on the internet. What gives you greatest cause for concern with regard to internet safety for your own family?
I have all the same worries about Internet safety as any other parent, but I suppose my biggest worry is that my daughter will experience Cyberbullying.
Kids have always had the capacity for cruelty, but the Internet offers those who are so inclined the opportunity to reach a far greater audience than that afforded by the playground, so the impact can also be far greater.
In your opinion, what’s the single most important thing a parent can do to help their child stay safe online?
Because there are so many facets to online safety, there’s no ‘magic bullet’.
I can’t tell someone if you do ‘this’ then you have it covered.
If I had to give just one piece of advice it would be this –
“Don’t think you have to be an online genius to keep your kids safe. Remember the lessons you were taught by your parents about avoiding strangers, dealing with bullies and other problems you faced as a kid, and remember that those lessons still apply today.
The problems are the same, it’s only the ways that your children could experience those problems that have changed.”
What measures do you recommend for parents who want to help their children avoid cyberbullying?
The first piece of advice I would give is for parents to encourage their children to keep their details private.
Being careful who they give their mobile phone number to, only connecting with “real” friends on social networks like Facebook and Windows Live messenger, and ensuring that their Facebook privacy settings are set at “Friends Only” as opposed to the more common “Friends of Friends” can help children to ensure that they only have contact with people that they know and trust in “real life”.
Unfortunately, these measures can only be so effective, because it’s easy for Cyberbullies to set up ‘hate’ sites about other children, and post on forums and other online services without actually being connected to their victim, and these things are almost impossible to prevent.
And what actions should parents take if they think (or know) their child is being targeted by cyberbullies?
The actions parents can take will differ depending upon the method(s) being used by the Cyberbullies, and these actions are covered in Chapter 3 of the book.
Generally though, parents should:
Stay calm – Bullies thrive on provoking a reaction. If they don’t get that reaction then they’ll be disappointed, so don’t be tempted to respond to ANY bullying messages, even if it’s to refute a spurious allegation or just to tell the bully what you think of him/her.
Collect evidence: Save emails and text messages in case further action is required, and keep a diary logging every event. I’ve inlcuded a couple of templates parents can use to record incidents in the book.
Talk to your child’s school: Most incidents of Cyberbullying stem from the playground and your child’s school should have an anti-bullying policy which includes Cyberbullying. If school IT equipment is being used to perpetrate the bullying, it may also be possible for access logs to help identify those responsible.
It’s important to remember that some methods used by bullies may constitute a criminal offence, and if any of the messages contain pornography, violent imagery or threats of harm, parents should make a complaint to the police.
Thank you, Charles
Do you feel you know enough about how best to keep your family safe online?
What worries you most about internet safety?