Deep into the school summer holidays, many children will have chalked up much more time than usual on tablets, mobiles and computers.
Yet despite such a large chunk of children’s lives being spent online, a worrying proportion of parents have never bothered to set up parental controls on family technology.
More than a third (37%) of parents of four to 18-year-olds have no parental controls in place, according to a survey of 1,000 parents for Get Safe Online, an internet security awareness initiative set up by the Government, the National Crime Agency and Ofcom.
In addition to some parents failing to use technology to help protect kids online, only half tell their children to steer clear of pop-ups or links online and a similar proportion tell their child what to do if approached by a stranger online.
In addition, less than half (46%) talk to their child about what to do if they’re bullied online.
Tony Neate, chief executive of Get Safe Online, says: “Technology is now a given for children, but the online world changes so fast – we’ve seen that over the last few weeks with the mass uptake of Pokemon GO which now brings the online world into physical environments and a whole new set of risks.
“Our children are growing up to be extraordinarily tech-savvy, which does make it difficult for parents to keep control of what they’re doing online. And we can see that many are worried about the risks their kids face.”
The research found that of the parents who do use parental controls, two thirds (66%) block their children from inappropriate content, almost half (46%) monitor their child’s access to devices like smart phones and tablets and 43% use free parental controls offered by the four ISPs.
In addition, four in 10 (42%) will keep devices in places easily seen by the whole family and 40% will agree a list of appropriate websites with their child.
“It’s promising to see that parents are beginning to use a variety of measures to educate their children about online safety, by having open and honest conversations with them about the potential risks and dangers and setting down clear rules – and also using technology controls,” says Neate.
“But over a third still aren’t using the tools available to monitor usage and block, and even more worryingly, not even talking to their children about online stranger danger.”
He adds: “For all parents, technology can be a real blessing in keeping their children busy and entertained over the long summer holidays. But make sure you have clear conversations with children about the risks of being online as well as looking into some of the technology tools you can use to help. These tools are surprisingly easy to use.”
Get Safe Online recommends parents take the following steps to protect their children online.
Talk regularly with your child about their online lives.
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries and rules for your children from a young age.
Try some of the technologies your child enjoys for yourself.
Talk to friends and family about how they keep their children safe online. Exchanging experiences can be valuable.
Use parental controls on computers, mobile devices and games consoles as well as privacy features on social networking sites and safety options on Google/other search engines. Opt into your ISP’s family filters.
Install reputable parental control software and apps to help ensure age-appropriate online activity and monitor your child’s internet usage.
Stay aware of changes in your child’s behaviour or moods, as it may be a sign that your child is being bullied or abused online.
Try not to rely purely on technology to keep your child safe online, instead use it to support you in setting the limits and building a dialogue with your child.
Remember that social networking and picture sharing sites have minimum age limits – find out what they are and make sure your child isn’t using age-inappropriate networks and apps.
As your child grows up, make sure they’re aware of the basics of online safety, such as not clicking on links in emails and instant messages, good password practice, not turning off internet security programs/apps and firewalls, and not revealing personal information.
For more about online safety, visit www.getsafeonline.org
Ask the expert
Q: “My two sons and I charge our phones and other electronic gadgets overnight, but someone’s now told me that’s dangerous. Is it risky and what are the safety rules concerning charging?”
A: Emma Apter, head of communications at the charity Electrical Safety First, says: “Charging anything overnight could result in overcharging – and if you use cheap or fake chargers, they often don’t have the safety mechanisms in them, which could lead to overheating and catching fire. Yet half of respondents across all ages questioned in recent research we did don’t think charging a phone overnight is dangerous, and 27% of children and 41% of parents have used or bought a cheap unbranded charger.
“Electrical items like tablets, laptops and mobile phones have lithium batteries which get warm – if left on, or charged on bedding or flammable material the heat can’t dissipate like it would if it was left on a table, so there’s a chance the material could catch fire. Yet our research found over half of children (52.9%) have left gadgets charging on their beds, and 38% were guilty of leaving their phones charging under their pillow overnight.
“Children have on average 10 electrical items in their room, ranging from fairy lights to tablets, and spend just over four hours a day in their bedrooms; 79% of this time using technology.
“It’s vital you know how your children are using and charging their electrical items – get your family into the habit of switching off and unplugging mobiles, computers and other electrical appliances before you go to bed or leave the house.
“And make sure no one charges phones, tablets or any electrical device on a bed, under a pillow or on top of clothes where it could overheat and catch fire.”