OPINION: How you can keep your child safe in the online world

The NSPCC has a new campaign aimed at regulating social media for children

The NSPCC has a number of steps you can take to keep your child safe online - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Children and young people are engaging with the world like never before with the rise of social media and online gaming.

Whether it’s playing an online game with another person, or exchanging stories, information, photos or videos; our children are making new connections all the time and, as parents, it’s only natural that we may have concerns about the nature and intent of these interactions.

Our children aren’t oblivious to this either, but sadly, the skill and persistence of those who are intent on reaching children for the wrong reasons, can fool even the savviest of youngsters.

Unsurprisingly, Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms in the world. With the platform’s strong focus on sharing images such as photographs, art and illustrations it attracts the attention of adults, young people and children alike. And yet, Instagram is also often the social media platform of choice for abusers wanting to target children for grooming.

The platform recently announced a new major change regarding its user’s accounts. From now, all users are required to provide their date of birth whether their account is new or existing. The popular platform says that it will be using artificial intelligence to determine how old users are by monitoring posts that involve the user’s birthday.

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It has long been recognised that Instagram does not allow users under the age of 13 to create an account, but until now no measures were taken to prevent anyone under that age creating one.

The rule came in just days before tech giants were set to conform to greater safeguards introduced by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which has already pushed Google and TikTok to make changes.

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At the NSPCC we understand that robust changes must be made in order to keep children safe online. But our data shows that Instagram is consistently the most common platform used by abusers to groom children, so whilst these changes are positive, the platform as yet has failed to provide enough substantive information that explains how this will work and be effective.

Therefore, not much has really changed and the onus is still primarily on parents and guardians to protect children online and support them so they can build their own digital resilience.

With social media giants still falling behind with online security how can parents and guardians protect their children online?

1. Explore the app together

2. Talk to your child about what they’re sharing

3. Check out the privacy settings

4. Show them how to block, report or restrict

5. Ask them about their followers- set some boundaries around who can follow them

6. Reduce the risk of your child coming across language that might upset them by enabling Instagram’s ‘Hide offensive comments’ tool

More information on these tips, and others, can be found on Net Aware.

The website, produced by O2 and the NSPCC, is a guide for parents about the most popular sites, apps and games that children and young people use. Through the use of reviews from adults and children, Net Aware helps parents decide if a site is right for their child, if it’s age appropriate and explores what risks they might encounter. This information enables parents and guardians to help keep their children safe online.

Underpinning all this of course are those regular, informal conversations about online activity, which can be introduced in the same way we would ask about a child’s day at school.

For more information, parents and guardians can visit www.net-aware.org.uk/news/keeping-safe-on-social-media

If a child is ever affected by coming into contact with unsettling images or content online they can call Childline at any time on 0800 111 to speak to a Childline counsellor.

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