The internet is an amazing place for a child. Never before have children been able to play, learn, and commune all in one place. It’s an exciting world, full of endless possibilities. However, it’s also full of dangers. Unfortunately, the issue of children’s online safety is currently more prevalent than ever before. With new apps and technologies being cultivated all the time, it’s no wonder that we’re repeatedly challenged by the new dangers and concerns that accompany such developments.
According to a recent NSPCC report, the number of Childline counselling sessions about online safety and abuse totalled a shocking 12,248. This is an increase of 9% on last year figures. The findings also declare that 30% of young people have witnessed violence and/or hatred on a social network, game, or app. Again, this figure has risen from previous years.
Following such reports, pressure has now begun mounting on both the government, and social media sites themselves, to do more to combat online abuse. Last year, the Culture Secretary revealed plans to tax social media companies that fail to meet their legal duties in regard to illegal content, though this is yet to come to fruition. The difficulty that these institutions face however, is the sheer speed at which new apps and games are developed. Even if government agencies were to shut down a particularly offensive game or app, there’d most likely be a new one already in its place, with a huge following, by the time they had done so. There’ll probably be a freshly-invented app by the time you’ve read this article.
This adversity is also shared by parents. It’s difficult to accurately keep track of your child’s online activity when there are new sites being created every day. As we know, most children are highly impressionable, and will usually follow the crowd when it comes to web use. The latest game which appears to be hosting this crowd is “Roblox”. This game, which describes itself as “the world’s largest platform for play”, allows children to create their own games, or play games that other users have made, in an immersive 3D world. Players create their own Lego-like avatar, and then roam around, interacting with other players and playing games.
This all sounds very harmless but, as usual, there are some conspicuous risks associated with this platform. It has been reported that the game can feature naked characters, and scenes of a sexual and violent nature. Though Roblox do have their own filters and moderation team in place, it would seem that there are ways around this, which result in many things remaining uncensored. Also, the rate and abundance of user-generated content means that it is impossible for the moderators to shut down anything offensive that quickly.
Most alarming however, is the capacity for interaction with complete strangers. Roblox has over 30 million players, all of whom you are able to connect with. Users are able to send each other friend requests, and even private messages. Clearly, this would be of concern to any parent. Once again, Roblox claim that their filters prevent any personal details from being exchanged. However, it appears that it is possible, and it is happening. In-game parental controls do provide the option to switch off the chat/messaging function which, as a parent, is certainly something worth considering.
Of course, as with any internet-based issue which may arise with your child, the first step should be a positive, open dialogue. It’s important not to alienate your child or break their trust by acting irrationally. Be calm, be inquisitive, and stress that it’s important for your child to be open with you about their internet habits. You’re only looking out for them, not trying to ruin their fun, and this is the attitude that should be conveyed. Find out what they’re doing and who they’re talking to, and take the appropriate action. In many cases, a simple warning may be all that’s required.
There’s one alternative method of policing children’s internet use which is becoming increasingly prevalent amongst parents, and this is the use of parental control or “monitoring” apps. This means apps which can regulate, filter, and often restrict your child’s internet usage, all from your own device. When used in the right way, these apps can help children understand the value of limits in the digital world, while preventing them from accessing harmful content.
A quick google or app store search will bring up a plethora of results for applications of this kind. Each app varies in terms of the actions it can perform, and some are much more obtrusive than others. Whilst some of the apps provide more congenial functions, such as monitoring and reviewing activity, others enable more combative approaches; remote locking, location tracking, and blacklisting. Some are so expertly covert that they can spy on a person’s device without them knowing anything about it- something which has lay waste to several marriages.
In my opinion, the use of an app this aggressive to monitor a child does seem rather extreme. However, the simple threat of using software such as this is probably enough to coerce most children into behaving more responsibly. In many cases, the need for any form of parental control app will be redundant, and an open, honest conversation with your child will be all that’s necessary. Most children are extremely clever, and are well-aware and understanding of the dangers they can be subjected to when online, without any intervention.
If you feel that a monitoring app is necessary however, it’s important that you make it part of a comprehensive approach. Positive conversation must always come before anything else. It’s very easy to make your child feel victimised and alienated- you don’t want to be viewed as some kind of evil internet tyrant. Try to be inclusive; make it a “family issue” rather than an individual one. Apps can be used to monitor the whole family’s internet usage, which allows you to challenge your daily screen-time as a family.
It’s an impossible task to police the whole internet, and indeed everything that a child may encounter online, and it’s important to remember this. We can only educate young people and encourage them to act responsibly. It then becomes their job to protect themselves through their own choices, and we must have faith in them to make the right ones. Apps can be deceiving, after all.
Louis Allen, Sales & Marketing Assistant
Posted on April 18th, 2018 @ 5:14 PM