Internet safety

Pick a street, Mum says. Any street, and you can go down it. I’ll walk with you, she says. I pick a street that sounds cool, and my mum smiles. She takes my hand and we walk down the street. I’ve never walked down this street before, but my mum says it’s okay. I asked if we could go for a walk and Mum said yes, so that’s what we’re doing. I asked her if I could choose where we walked and that’s when she said to pick a street. Now I ask if we can knock on a house. My mum doesn’t look so sure. Why do you want to do that, she asks? The thing is, my friends have all done it. They’ve all knocked on a house before, even houses they’ve never been in. My mum looks at me with a frown. She’s going to say no. Please Mum, I say, all my friends have done it. She’s thinking.

Please Mum, my son says. All my friends have done it. I look at him, his big eyes. He’s so big now. He’s learning new things and he’s much smarter than I was at his age. I don’t even know where to begin trying to understand these new things the kids are all into these days. I don’t know how my son does it. He just looks at something and instantly he knows how to work it. He never needs my help, I just stand back and let him do it himself. He’s a good kid too, so I know deep down he won’t do anything silly. He’s just curious. Kids these days need to learn these things, they need to know how to handle themselves and I guess I’m not doing him any favours by wrapping him up in cotton wool. And if all his friends are doing it… Plus, it gives me some time to check out those cheaper energy companies and get tea started too. What harm could it do?

Mum says yes! I can knock on any house I want! I can’t wait to tell my mates at school tomorrow. I’m looking round at all the doors, then I spot the door that my friend Lewis told me about. He said when you knock on the door and go into the house it’s really cool, you have loads of fun and like magic all of our other friends are in there and we can have a laugh. My mum seemed fine when I told her that everyone else is doing it and then she said she did actually have some things to do. She said I had to be back in an hour though. That’s fine, I say, even though Lewis is allowed to stay as long as he wants. He doesn’t even ask his mum. He just knocks on doors whenever he feels like it. His mum is so busy with work. I say ‘bye to my mum, and off I go. I’m so excited! Now I’ll be able to join in the conversations at school about it all. I won’t feel stupid when I say I don’t know what they’re talking about. This is going to be so cool.

He should be back by now. It’s been an hour and five minutes nearly. I do trust him, he’s a good kid. I know he won’t do anything daft, I’ve brought up him the right way. I just… Oh, here he comes. My little guy. I better get him to start his homework. Tea won’t be long, son, I tell him. He smiles at me. Thanks, Mum, he says. I ruffle his hair and send him to the dinner table, handing him his book bag as he goes. I watch him start his homework. He’s a good boy. Then it hits me; I’ve got no idea what happened in that house. He seemed fine when he came home though, so I guess it’s okay. I start to feel worried. I wouldn’t normally let him do things like that, just knock on a random house that I have never been in myself let alone him. I’ve never let him go somewhere unknown, somewhere I’ve not checked out first. He said all his friends would be in there though, that they’re always in random house’s hanging out together. A different one each week. But I didn’t go in with him first. Christ, I didn’t even check who owned the house… I look over at my son, who is making light work of his 8x tables. He seems fine. He’s a good boy. I shouldn’t be worried. I’m being silly. He’s fine, and I got to do something I’d been struggling to find time for in peace and quiet. I guess it’s not so bad. He knows not to do anything he shouldn’t. He’s a good boy.

Would you send your child into a house that you had never seen before? Would you let them enter a house that they had picked at random, chosen it because it looked nice, wanted to go inside alone without you because their friends told them they’d be there too? Because their friends all do it, most nights? Would you let your son or daughter hang out with total strangers who they didn’t know, who you didn’t know?

No.

So why do we allow our children online without us? Why do we hand our children these devices, tell them the password for the Wi-Fi and let them skip merrily off through a door to a world that is massively an unknown quantity? We trust our kids, we’ve brought them up the right way, we’ve taught them right from wrong and they’re good kids, so in theory we don’t need to worry, right?

Wrong.

When you hand your child a smartphone or tablet with Internet access, what you’re actually giving them is access to a whole host of unchartered information including photos and video that you, the parent, have not previously checked and vetted. Your child may be a good kid, they may know to steer clear of unsavoury search terms and sites but the fact is – and it is fact – the Internet is full of people who you do not know and chances are they’ll be far more technologically advanced than you and your child. The internet is a whole other world and by giving your child access, often without parental guidance, you are sending them unarmed into what is essentially the lion’s den.

Some kids can be more curious than others. They can be desperate to know what others in their class are involved in online, to be in with the ‘cool crowd’ and take part in the excited conversation at lunch time. Often they can be so desperate to know what new app or website everyone is talking about that they might be tempted to go online without you, without your permission. We cannot stress enough how dangerous this is, especially if your child isn’t that savvy or ‘worldly wise’ and just dives in blind. Once a child has seen something they shouldn’t they cannot unsee it. Videos and GIFs can pop up at the sides and bottom of a website advertising other sites, often of an adult nature and chances are your child, especially one of a younger age, won’t be ready or able to process what they see. It can be traumatizing. We have to put it that bluntly, because we won’t sugar coat this issue.

Peer pressure can creep in when children start venturing into the online world. Other children can tell them to sneak online when parents are busy or otherwise engaged, and again this is where it gets dangerous. If parents are not clued up when it comes to the workings of the digital age, they can often be looking at a social media platform and not even realise it. They may not have a clue that their child is active on social media and again, without permission or knowledge there is no way for parents to check what their children are posting, who they are friends with online, and worst of all, what they are being exposed to. If your child is keeping their internet activity a secret from you, you need to know why they feel they must hide it from you. Then you must sit down at the computer and educate yourself on what it is your child is doing online so that you can make sure nothing gets past you again. We don’t stand our toddlers at the side of a road and let them figure out how to cross by themselves, so why are we sitting our children down in front of a computer and letting them figure out how to navigate the internet by themselves? Danger these days isn’t confined to strangers, running out into the road without looking, swallowing bleach, poking fingers into plug sockets. It’s the internet too.

We don’t like being the bearers of bad news, but the bottom line is, too many parents are allowing their children online without supervision and the effects could potentially be catastrophic. It’s easy for us to sit here and say all this, because we know how the internet works, it’s our job, but it’s very difficult to explain to someone who isn’t very technologically advanced just how murky the depths of the internet are. You can’t physically see the sheer size of the internet, so it can be hard to get your head around. That said, as much as we know the ins and outs and the inner workings of the internet there will always be someone with a new way of circumnavigating the protocols and parental controls. More often than not, those parental controls are as useful as a chocolate teapot and children themselves can get round them. Yes, you read that right. They don’t always work.

This issue of internet safety is gargantuan so we have to split this article into two parts. Next week we will explore in depth the issue of screen shots, spending money on tokens and “coins” online for games and the legal ages required for certain apps and websites amongst other things. For now though, don’t forget to check us out for any SEO services you and your business may require – we’re online (naturally!), on Facebook, on Twitter and Instagram or you can go old school and give us a call! You can even pop into our office – we have coffee and malted milk biscuits! We’re top of the game for SEO, CRO, digital marketing and website design in Manchester so don’t go with an alien species, let SEO Enterprise beam your business into brilliance today.

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