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Internet Awareness (Parental Advice)

The internet has become an integral part of everyday life for many people. It enhances social interaction, communication and builds communities. It is an immense database of knowledge and thus is the largest educational tool available to humans. We can play games, watch movies, listen to music and shop for anything. It may not be able to make you a cup of tea, but you can purchase one online and get it delivered.

Your children are growing up in a technological age, and many parents are feeling that they have been left behind. Technology is developing fast and it is not just computer’s that allow you access to the Internet. Many modern devices such as tablets, mobile phones and games consoles all have internet browsers for surfing the internet. Soon the internet will be made available through other household devices, from televisions to the kitchen fridge. Even if you do not have access to the internet at home, it is freely available through your local Library, in cyber cafés, retail shops, at work, in schools, in museums and fast food restaurants.

However, whilst the internet can be an exciting and wonderful place full of extremely useful things, there is also a darker side to it. The internet contains a lot of inappropriate material for children. These may include violent images, addictive gambling sites and material of a sexual nature, but the biggest threat of all is other humans.

The internet offers a sense of anonymity and whilst this can encourage those of a quiet disposition to reach out and be heard, it also brings an element of danger. Nothing is ever quite as it seems. Most children nowadays use the internet as a communication tool, whether this be through instant messaging, talking in chat pages, or posting messages through social networking sites. There is a term called “Grooming” where an adult will pretend to be someone else in order to create a trusting relationship with an infant. Their intentions are usually of a sexual nature.

Communications can be done over the internet in a number of ways:

  • SMS [Short Messaging Service] - The ability to transmit small text messages between two mobile phones.
  • IM [Instant Messaging] - A live chat using text sent through a computer. There are many different IM Services from Microsoft’s MSN, Yahoo Messenger to Blackberry Messenger.
  • VC [Video Conferencing] - The ability to chat face to face over the internet using a webcam. The most popular services are Skype, Apple Talk and Google Hangouts.
  • CHAT ROOMS – A virtual environment where multiple people from all over the world can chat together at the same time.
  • BLOGS – An area in the internet where someone writes a story, or comment, and others post their thoughts on that text.
  • WIKIS – Similar to blogs but everyone has full control over the webpage. An example of this is the Wikipedia; the largest encyclopedia completely developed by everyday people. Whilst many people use it to fabricate false truths, the majority of the information is factual.
  • SOCIAL NETWORKING – Free personal web space via Facebook, Twitter, Ask.FM, My Space or You Tube where individuals can set up lists of friends and share pictures, videos and thoughts.

Whether you like the idea of social networking or not, there is a very good chance that your son or daughter already has an account on one of these sites. Unfortunately, these are the type of places you may find cyber bullying takes place.

The term “cyber” glamorises what is plain and simply BULLYING, and unfortunately bullying can lead to disastrous consequences.  There is simply no excuse. No one knows why someone is bullied. Sometimes it is through peer pressure, boredom, fear or even a cry for attention.

As a parent “do you know what your child is doing on the internet?”. Are they being bullied or even the bully?

With the cost of computers coming down in price, it is all too easy for parents to purchase a computer for their children and set up the internet through a wireless router. The idea being that the child will use it sensibly and only for homework. This is not going to happen…

The main difference between school and home is that we have software in place which blocks offensive and non educational websites. It also keeps of record of user activities which is reviewed on a daily basis. At home, your internet access will be completely unrestricted.

So how do we take back control? The simple advise is to talk to your children.

“Teenagers will always be teenagers" as they say, and putting a block on all internet access will not solve the problem. Good communication and awareness is the key to keeping our children safe on the internet. Take the time to talk to your child. Chances are that they know more about the internet than you so ask them what they are doing. Get 'them' to show you how to use applications you have never used.

It is important that you help your child understand that they should never give out any personal details online. These details should include their mobile phone number or home address. Remember that if you upload a picture of yourself online, it is possible for others to download and edit that picture. You should also never meet up with anyone who has randomly contacted you over the internet. If the friendship is real, then ensure that an adult is present.

Constantly remind your child that not everything is real on the internet. If your child is receiving spam emails, tell them not to open attachments without you present as they may contain inappropriate images or even a virus. In the same way, if they are approached by someone online who they do not know, tell them to be suspicious and let you know. All of the Social Networking and Instant Messaging sites have the ability to block and report nuisance users.

In order to monitor your child’s access more closely, never set up a computer in a child's bedroom. Place it in a family environment and make computer time a social event. There are programs which you can download that will log all computer activity, but spying only displays mistrust. There are also numerous applications which will limit what websites are available, but the internet is ever changing and there is no guarantee that it will block all immoral content or it might inadvertently block educational sites.

Most importantly, make it clear that you are always there for them and if someone is being mean to them online or via a mobile phone, then they should talk to you or a teacher at school. Sometimes talking to someone outside of the family is easier.

St George's Academy wants to help and we take a no nonsense approach to any form of bullying regardless whether this be inside or outside of the school grounds. The Academy’s own Behaviour Policy states that “No student must be prevented from achieving his or her personal best by another student”. Cyber bullying is bullying and there’s simply no excuse.

A powerful anti bullying video was produced by Childnet International for the Department for Children Schools and Families which shows the affects of cyber bullying. This video has been show to all year groups and can also be viewed online at http://www.digizen.org/cyberbullying/film.aspx.

In the UK, it was reported that 38% of young people have been affected by Cyberbullying and almost half (46%) said that they have been bullied at school at some point in their lives. 18% of children who were worried about bullying said that they would not want to talk to their parents about it (figures taken from Tellus4 Nation Report 2010). In contrast, a report by the Anti-Bullying Alliance in 2006 had the number of children and young people effected by cyber bullying at 22%. It would appear that as modern technology becomes more readily available,  so does the threat of abuse. This is why St. George’s Academy have set up a special hotline and email address for students who are either being bullied or wish to report bullying incidents whether they are inside the school grounds or not.

The Anti Bullying Helpline is (01529) 301199 and email help@st-georges-academy.org.

Other useful resources regarding internet awareness and cyber bullying are:

ChildNet International - www.childnet-int.org
Think U Know - www.thinkuknow.co.uk 
Child Exploitation and Online Protection - www.ceop.gov.uk
Anti-Bullying Alliance - www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk
Kidscape - www.kidscape.org.uk

Some other people who are simply there to help are:
Childline - www.childline.org.uk or telephone 0800 1111
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children - www.nspcc.org.uk or telephone 0808 800 5000
Get Connected - www.getconnected.org.uk
or telephone 0808 808 4994
The Samaritans - www.samaritans.org.uk or telephone 08457 90 90 90