Q&A on internet safety with Charlotte Aynsley and TalkTalk
Your questions were answered by Charlotte Aynsley, an expert in the field of internet safety. Charlotte has worked with the government, local authorities and schools on keeping children safe online.
She answers your queries on everything from social networking sites to keeping up with techno-advanced children.
Q. Snorbs: How well does TalkTalk's HomeSafe and other ISP-level filtering services work, considering that adults and children need different levels of filtering? For example, say I want to access Mumsnet. I wouldn't want my pre-teen children to be able to access Mumsnet due to the adult language and explicit sex talk. If I had HomeSafe, how could I achieve this?
A. Charlotte: TalkTalk is currently the only ISP to offer network level filtering - this effectively means that any device that is connected to the internet through the TalkTalk connection is protected if you use HomeSafe. HomeSafe has three specific functions:
- Kid Safe - helps protect your kids from seeing inappropriate websites, with easy-to-set content categories
- Virus Alerts - helps stop viruses before they reach your front door and alerts you if you visit a suspected site
- Homework Time - helps prevent distractions during homework time by allowing you to set time limits to filter social networking and gaming websites
Because HomeSafe works on the broadband network itself, you can't differentiate on the basis of the user, which means that you can't allow different levels of access according to whether it's you accessing the web or your children.
However, what you can do is turn the filter on and off very easily, so when you're using the internet you can access the sites you want.
There are advantages to network level filtering in that you can manage it across a range of devices, so if you do want to differentiate between users, you can also use different types of filtering. For example, you could set up a safe search on Google, or you could block sites on Windows 8, or you could buy a different type of software product to block sites.
Whatever you decide though, remember that nothing replaces a conversation, as the reality is that your children will probably come across inappropriate content online at some point. That's why it's important that you discuss what the risks are online so that they know what to do if anything does happen.
Q. Eggsandham: I was wondering about BlackBerry phones - my children are on theirs all the time. Are there any specific cyber controls that cover BlackBerry at all? I read that there weren't and I'm pretty worried now?
A. Charlotte: Lots of kids use BlackBerry phones, especially the BlackBerry Messenger function, as it's free, and lots of teens consider it to be the device of choice.
BlackBerry do offer parental controls. You can do things like turn off the camera and set up the phone so that your kids can only receive calls from people in their contacts list.
To do this, go into the parental controls on their phone (options>security>parental controls), or you download the Parental Controls app - available here from BlackBerry App world. This will allow you to restrict and manage some of what they can see and do on their phone - whether it's access to the BBM function, taking, sending and receiving pictures, browsing or taking and receiving calls.
It's important though to have a conversation with them about what they can and can't do and when they are ready to start using some of these functions. They do need to learn about them and better that they learn with you than without you.
You can find out further information and access the How to Set Up Blackberry Parental Controls information by downloading or ordering your free copy of Digital Parenting magazine. The information about setting parental controls is on page 54 and 55.
Q. AgaKhant: I'd like to know how to combat the "but everyone else's mum lets them" tactic. My daughter is nine, and she has friends on Facebook and Twitter, as well as using Moshi Monsters. She also has some cyber-only friends, whom she's never met but takes on face value that they're also kids.
She knows the dangers (they watched what sounded like a very hard-hitting film at school within the past few weeks) but it is so hard being the unfair mum. It sounds like this message is not getting through to her friends' parents - being online so young is seen as cool but the outcomes can be terrible!
A. Charlotte: This is a tough call but what you need to remember that parenting online is the same as any other parenting job. You are always going to have pressures from your kids about the latest of everything, if it's the latest trainers, mobile phone or the pressure to have a TV in the bedroom.
Officially, they shouldn't be on Facebook until they are 13 (though many use it at a younger age), but you may want to sit down with them and talk about some of the risks they may encounter.
There are some great resources out there to get you started (it sounds like your daughter has seen some of them). Have a look at some of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre resources (CEOP), which showcase some of the risks of being online and most of it is demonstrated through films that you can sit and watch. They also have some resources for parents as well.
In terms of being the uncool mum, it is hard, and as you say, you don't want them upset, but you're right, because the risks do need to be kept in perspective. You're absolutely right to think about them, but it is good to remember that thankfully they are relatively low. Most of their online experiences are characterised by them having lots of fun. Recent research done across Europe (EU Kids Online II) suggested that incidents of bullying were around 6%.
If you haven't already, you might want to think about explaining why you're concerned to your daughter, and go over why you want her to be online, but stress that if she has friends online that it's important that she understands that just because they have a Moshi Monster doesn't mean they are another child. She doesn't need scaring, just talking to about the fact that not everyone online is who they say they are.
In terms of other parents, you might want to think about encouraging your child's school to address some of the issues to start to raise the profile. Like I say, officially kids shouldn't have a profile on Facebook until they are 13 and if you notified Facebook and they found the child to be underage they would remove the profile, but of course it won't stop them from creating a new profile.
If the school wants more information, they can get free copies of the Digital Parenting Magazine, or visit the Simple Steps guide on the Parentzone website, which is a guide to setting up parental controls.
Q. deadtall: I find it very confusing setting up parental controls, and I'm afraid my kids will end up being smarter than me and turning it all off again. I long for a simple system that takes me through things step by step in plain language.
A. Charlotte: There's no doubt that parental controls is an area people find really complicated. They vary depending on what device you use, one control can override another, and it's hard enough to even know what's out there, never mind being technically-minded enough to set them up!
However, they are out there - and in force. And there is information available, but it depends on what type of device you want to set them up on (BlackBerry, iPad, iPhone, PC, Xbox and so on).
There isn't a single solution that will work for every situation however, so you need to first of all think about what device you want to protect and where it is used, then go in search of what parental controls are available. Most, if not all, devices do offer something by way of protection now and if they don't, there's software and apps available, too.
If you want to protect all devices at once in the home, the only real way to do that is through network level filtering, like TalkTalk's HomeSafe system. It sets up parental controls on your broadband, so it applies to all devices using that internet connection. Here's a demonstration of HomeSafe and more information on how to set it up.
You need to remember though that if you take the devices out of the home, or if your kids use their mobile phone network to browse the internet, they won't be protected.
Have a look at the ‘Simple Steps’ guide on The Parent Zone website which will take you through setting up parental controls.
It's also important to remember that while parental controls are useful, no technical solution is 100% effective. Discuss with your kids some of the issues that they might come across so that they know what to do if they do come across something they don't like.
And if you are worried about them getting around parental controls one of the best things you can do is use a good password that they don't know and won't guess!
Q. MmeLindor: I'm very concerned that too many parents are relying on parental controls and not sitting down and speaking to their children. The best protection for children is knowledge, not software. The home PC can be locked down, the child's iPod have child safety features enabled but once the child leaves the house, you cannot be sure what they are seeing. A friend's house, someone at school who has a mobile phone... kids as young as 11 are being exposed to porn, some of it hardcore. I'd like to see more emphasis on how to speak to the kids about these issues, in an age appropriate manner, such as explained on Think U Know website.
A. Charlotte: Yes, it's really, really important that you talk to your children about their experiences of the online world. I think it's like allowing them to cross the road on their own for the first time - you start holding their hand, but before you know it they're doing it all on their own.
It's the same in the online world. They need hand holding (even if you don't feel confident), and they need to be guided so that they know what to do when they are surfing on their own. And it's really important to remember that you don't need to be technically confident.
As you've pointed out, the Think U Know website is an excellent resource for parents and there are also some other really good resources out there as well. The UK Safer Internet Centre has a good list here.
Parental controls do serve a very important purpose, but you are right - they are not a panacea. They are helpful in that they can provide parents with opportunities for conversation, protection and a way of supporting their children to navigate the online world, especially when they are younger, and then as they grow up and build their skills, then slowly but surely the protection can be lifted to empower kids and build their resilience.
However, nothing replaces a conversation and support and nor should it. When used in combination with dialogue, advice and guidance parental controls can be powerful tools but they are not a replacement for parenting.
Q. Whoknowswherethetimegoes: I would like to know more about safety using Apple Mobile devices. I know about the restriction settings, but we share a family iPad and it is not practical to have to remember to switch Safari off every time you put it down. I'd like a way to restrict what can be browsed in Safari and also in the YouTube app. I have looked into the alternative browser Mobicip, but it sounds as though it would severely restrict normal grownup browsing, which is the main use for our iPad.
A. Charlotte: There are a few things you can do to filter content - lots of families share devices so this is a recurring problem. You could use a network level filtering product like TalkTalk's HomeSafe (depending on what network you are on, the other 'big four' ISPs also offer filtering products as well) and pre-select content that you want to filter like adult pornography, self harm, gambling etc or you could set up Google safesearch. There is also advice on setting this up in The Parent Zone's Simple Steps guide to parental controls that you can download here.
Remember you can always turn these things off and on as well depending on who is on the iPad. I know it's not ideal but it is something you can do. Mobicip does offer the following:
- Web-based parental controls - this means that you can access them anytime anywhere if you have access to the web which will mean they are easier to turn on and off if you find the browsing too restrictive.
- You can manage specific users and devices - under one account, you can monitor usage across multiple devices.
- You can block certain types of websites - therefore you could for example block adult content or social networking. Therefore it doesn't have to be overly restrictive.
- You can filter YouTube - which means that you can if you want just allow certain categories, like educational content
- You can blacklist sites - so if there is anything you specifically don't want your kids to access you can add them to the list. This might be quite time consuming unless you know specific sites.
- You can whitelist sites - which means you can block categories but you can allow specific sites. Or you can develop whitelist only browsing which may be restrictive for you but would enable you to know exactly what sites your kids are using. In effect, creating a walled garden.
- You can also get activity reports for each user across all devices.
You can find out more about Mobicip here, and there are also lots of reviews around on Mobicip online in magazines and discussion forums. There are a few options around and depending on the age of your family and how much restriction you want to place on them you will want to consider the best option for you.
Q. Peasandgravy: Is it actually possible to make sure children are safe when more often than not, they know their way around technology better than we do?
A. Charlotte: The answer is simple - no, it is not possible to make sure that your children are completely safe, just like the real world. There are things you can do, protections that you can put in place, but you cannot ensure complete protection, unfortunately.
I would say forget the technology - a recent survey done by Ofcom found that lots of parents think their children are more technically capable than them. Forget the buttons, the screen and the fact that your two-year-old knows exactly what to do with an iPhone. You need to instead focus on the fact that you are the parent and they are the child.
Children feel very confident about their online interactions, but this in itself can lead them to take more risks. There may be cases where your children will find a way around parental controls - nothing can ever be 100% effective, online or offline - but that doesn't mean you shouldn't use them. Most parents use a combination of approaches, which includes talking to their children and making the most of the tools that are available.
Guide them in their first experience of using the internet and learn together. Then slowly but surely release them little by little. Make sure you set up the parental controls on whatever device it is they are using and continue to be interested in what they are doing, who they are talking to, what they are playing and where they are doing it.
Help them to build their confidence and support them in knowing what to do when things go wrong online - which is to talk about it - whether that's to you, their friend, their teacher or to access support online through Childline or Cybermentors.
Q. Cmv22077: Are there currently any social networking sites around that I should make sure to look out for when my children are browsing the web? I often hear about websites like Omegle which seem harmless but I know are being misused by adults but it's so hard to keep track of them as they seem to be popping up everywhere!
A. Charlotte: It is hard to keep track of them and to be honest, it is pretty much an impossible job. If you define a social networking site as all things social, then any site that allows communication between users is a possible risk - depending on the type of interaction. There are sites that pose particular problems - like Chatroulette and Little Gossip. Chatroulette works by automatically connecting two random people from anywhere in the world, using a webcam, and is virtually uncensored, meaning it can contain very explicit material. Little Gossip is a site which allows you to post up gossip about schools and individuals from UK schools; it often contains harmful comments and there is no recourse for action.
I would say the best thing to do is to talk to your children about what they are doing, saying, sharing and who they are talking to online. Remind them that they are sharing personal information about themselves and make sure they understand that whatever they post online can effectively be shared with everyone, including you! Have a look at the materials on the CEOP Think U Know website and get them to visit the CEOP YouTube channel to view some of the films.
If they are using Facebook, then make sure they have the right age setting for their profile - Facebook has more rigorous protection and security settings for users aged 13-17. You can find out more here.
Q. Lokkitt: Why isn't internet safety taught at school? Do you not think it should be part of the curriculum and an important part of teaching children how to keep themselves safe
A. Charlotte: I absolutely do think it should be a crucial part of teaching and learning in school. I would actually go so far to say that any school that is not teaching their students about e-safety is not fulfilling their duty of care towards those pupils.
However, I think it's somewhat of a misnomer to say that e-safety is not in the curriculum - it is! Or at least it can be justifiably taught within the curriculum. It's actually in the Ofsted inspection framework for schools, but it's true that if inspections get lighter, schools may not cover it in the way that they should do. However, revised programmes of study for ICT (Information and Communications Technology) that have been drafted, though not yet agreed, do place considerably more emphasis on e-safety going forward.
I think it's important that parents ask questions of their kids' schools around this topic, like: What are they doing as a school to address this important skill in young people? How are they teaching it and what sort of support do the staff get in dealing with e-safety problems? E-safety should be like a basic literacy skill - there are very few children going forward who will not be using technology in some way, shape or form, therefore they need to know the ins and outs.
Schools should have acceptable use policies, and should have someone responsible in school for this topic with clear outlines for children, staff and parents about what they do if things go wrong. There is also an abundance of free resources available to support the teaching of e-safety in schools, including from Childnet, the UK Safer Internet Centre and CEOP.
Q. MrsStringerBell: My children are always on at me about having their own email addresses - when do you think a child should be allowed to have an email address?
A. Charlotte: I would say that allowing a child to have their own email address is pretty far along the maturity level of e-safety. You need to be confident about their skills and maturity as an individual. In theory though, if they have a Facebook account they have a way of privately communicating as they can use the private message function, which is similar to email, and they can have an account from the age of 13.
If you are going to let them have an email account talk to them about what and who they want to communicate with and let them know they can talk to you if they are worried about something. You should also make them aware of the fact that they may not want to share their email address publicly, only with people they deem appropriate. It's a bit like giving out your phone number (though they can change their email address if they want to).
Q. FrayBentos: I'd like to know what your top tips are for keeping children safe online?
- Talk, talk and more talk - treat this like any other parenting job. You may not feel confident, they may know technically more than you, but you still need to put the safeguards in place and you are still their parent. Be interested in what they are doing and let them know you are interested. Start the conversation as early as possible so you can build on it going forward. That way they will know what the boundaries and expectations are and this will ring true in other areas of their life.
- Use the tools that are available to you - whether it's controlling the iPad, their phone, safe search or network level filtering. Use them to your advantage. They are there to help you, not replace you. Access the free information about them from companies, ask questions when you buy or set up your devices or internet connection and get to know what you can do with them.
- Get your kids wised up about what can go wrong and where to go if it does - get them to look at Think U Know, talk to their friends and also visit Cyber Mentors. Support them in helping each other and reinforce that they can always talk to you if they are unsure or worried.