Parents being worried about and protective of their children is certainly no new thing, but there is now a new threat to the safety and wellbeing of young people. Parents now have to contend with the online world, seemingly full of dangers from inappropriate and adult content to peer bullying and internet predators.
If you are a parent, you’ll likely have researched ways to protect your children online and control their internet use. You can fight tech with tech, using software, apps, devices and more.
There are also ways that you harness technology to monitor and track your children’s movements in the real world too. But where is the line drawn between keeping your children safe both online and offline and breaching their right to privacy? Wherever you stand on the concept of ‘helicopter parenting, where a parent ‘hovers’ and oversees every aspect of their child’s life, you need to think carefully about how much can you step in as a parent without creating a new problem.
Tracking devices – how to use them sensibly
Some people would feel concerned about tracking their children using GPS or other tracking devices, believing that it would violate their children’s privacy. However, not all would agree and many people do use trackers to ensure that they know where their children are.
Tracking devices don’t necessarily have to become an intrusive part of your child’s life. They can simply be used in emergency situations, such as when your child doesn’t come home when they say they will or worse if they go missing.
It’s also a good idea to talk to your child about the idea of carrying some form of tracking device, rather than planting one on a teen’s car or in a child’s schoolbag without telling them. If they discover the device without an explanation from you, your child could feel spied on.
There are lots of tracking devices you can use, including:
Geolocation activation on your child’s smartphone or tablet – this is the simplest way to keep basic tabs on your child’s location, as well as finding the device if it is lost or stolen. You don’t need any extra tech or expertise, and you can decide between you when location features should be switched on.
Car trackers – a condition of your teen getting their first car could be that they keep a GPS car tracker in the vehicle, allowing you to keep up with their movements and also rush to their rescue if they break down or get into trouble.
People trackers – if you wish to, you can keep an SMS tiny tracker in your child’s schoolbag. This can send you location updates to your phone on request but it also has another essential feature. This is an SOS panic button, which sends you an alert notification and location update if pressed three times – a real godsend for situations where your child feels threatened or lost and needs your help. This is a good way to use a personal tracker for the benefit of your child and their safety, rather than simply to put your mind at ease every five minutes at the expense of your child’s privacy.
Are parents right to be worried about children online?
Social media is a big part of everyday life for young people throughout the world, and the audiences for platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter seem to be getting younger. Research by the NSPCC found that nearly 25% of all 8-11-year-olds in the UK has a social media profile. This jumps to 75% for children aged 12-15 years old. The NSPCC also found that:
25% of children have experienced something upsetting while using a social networking platform
1 in 8 children and teens have been bullied online
Nearly 25% of young people have encountered hate messages or racist comments online
Childline carried out 2,100 counselling sessions with young people on the topic of online child sexual exploitation in 2016-17.
Clearly, there are many things online that may not be appropriate or even damaging for your child to see. There are also people online who may take advantage of your child’s naivety.
However, there’s no need to panic or completely cut off internet access for your child. It can be argued that it is far better for your child to learn how to use the internet safely while under your guidance and supervision, compared to going online at a friend’s house because they aren’t allowed to at home.
Easy ways to keep your child safe online
Technology can help to manage internet use for children and teens and to keep them safe online, as can setting basic rules and teaching your children about internet safety. Follow these steps:
Make use of the parental controls offered by your broadband provider. For example, you can set up a content filter that blocks access to sites containing inappropriate material as well as sites potentially containing malware and viruses.
Look into parental control software. This is device-specific which you can install on your child’s phone or tablet, or a home device. It allows you to monitor online activity on the device, restrict access to certain sites and crucially – restrict internet usage on certain sites at times, such as Facebook when there’s homework to be done.
Review privacy settings on social media sites. If your child is old enough to have a social media profile (for example, Facebook requires children to be 13 or older to set up an account), it’s a smart idea to sit down and review their privacy settings. Do this alongside your child, explaining what you’re doing to help them understand just how far and wide their information and photos can be shared if they aren’t careful.
If you have real concerns, do some detective work. For example, if your child or teen is being very secretive and you have real concerns that they may be chatting to an online predator, you can use a chat history recovery tool to download the chat log from your device.