The Child Safe Internet; safety online for children

Top tips

The major areas of concern

Chat rooms

"Areas on web sites that support "live" or real time communication over the Internet. Unlike e-mail with each person sending mail and waiting for a reply, chatting involves two or more people typing comments back and forth in a conversational style. As one person enters text it appears on the other person's screen in real time." These may be monitored rooms or not. They enable children to make friends with others, swop files (such as music files) or play interactive games online with others. Children will see these as a fun way to extend their social lives, without possibly recognising the dangers inherent. Anyone can pretend to be anyone online - there are NO checks on this. "No-one knows that you're a dog"
People may pose as children or teenagers, strike up a friendship and try and meet a child in an unsafe environment. Even if the adult is honest about their age, this does not imply that their intentions are good. In the UK Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes it an offence for a person to meet or travel to meet a child with the intention of committing a sex offence, if he has communicated with that child on at least two previous occasions. This is often known as 'grooming'.

Encourage your children to chat sensibly in a chat room, and try and ensure that they do not give away personal details. These would include where they go to school, where they live, their email addresses, names of other family members and so on. If someone obtains this information, it would be very easy for them to log back into the chatroom at another time under another name, and strike up a friendship 'because we've got so much in common'. Particularly ensure that they don't give out photographs of themselves to strangers, and just because they have received a photograph first, this does not mean that it is a photograph of the person that they are talking to.

Never reveal any personal details that would enable someone to contact the child outside of the chat room.
Keep online friends online; only meet if the child is with a responsible adult. This is basic safety advice that should apply to everyone, whatever their age.

There are several child friendly chat rooms that you can direct a child towards, such as Chatters, Kidchatters, Gridclub A good site with further information can be found at http://www.chatdanger.com/

Other methods of contact

Most computers (or at least those that run Microsoft software) will have an Instant Messaging service, which is very similar to mobile phone texting. It works like a chat room, where you swop messages back and forth, can share files, allow someone to have access to your system, or start a webcam chat. These can be a marvellous way of showing the grandparents the new baby, but they also have other uses, and children should be supervised if they use the service. The same rules for chatrooms apply here as well.

Searching for information on the Internet

Most search engines have an 'adult' filter that will attempt to filter out adult or pornographic images, but these cannot be relied upon to work. Rather than use a search engine which is designed for adult use, instead use a search engine that is designed for children. Another good listing of appropriate search engines can be found from the Searchenginewatch site, and here is another list of student friendly search engines. You might also find the Killer Info Kids search engine to be of interest. A final excellent listing is Kids Search Engines from Fagan Finder.

Be aware that some websites are specifically designed to provide children with incorrect or false information, particularly if they are looking for sites to do their homework. An example of this is the 'Martin Luther King Jr: A true historical examination' website at http://www.martinlutherkingdotorg/ (Please be aware that this is an unpleasant site, so be careful if you decide to visit it).

Blocking unsuitable material

As well as using a child friendly search engine, it is also sensible to install filtering or blocking software. It is however possible to by-pass these software packages, so they should not be relied upon 100%. The packages can control content, control contacts, shopping, privacy, time management, security and can monitor and record activity. The Parents Internet Network provides a list of packages which should be considered. Each package has been assessed for a variety of different factors and provides an unbiased opinion on their use and value. These products can be set to work at different levels for different users of the system, so while they are not difficult to install, some basic understanding of how the computer works, and how to set up different users on a single computers is necessary in order for the software to work correctly. Most of these packages are commercial in nature.

Check the authority of a website

Useful websites

The Parents Information Network.
GetNetWise
Department of Education and Skills (UK)
Childnet International
For Kids by Kids Online
National Children's Charity
Internet Watch Foundation
Childline
ThinkUKnow (This has a useful guide that can be downloaded as a .pdf or viewed in HTML)
Common sense media Reviews of films and games and an indication of their suitability for children.
EU plans for a safer internet for children. BBC news item.
Controlling Access to Internet Content What the Australians are doing in this area.
The use of filter systems A .pdf document covering the role of filtering. Produced by the University of British Columbia.
Commission on Online Child Protection (COPA) Links to various research papers in this area.
Information Society website A wide variety of links to material covering this subject area.
Kids on the web A good article that provides an overall view of the problem, with various solutions.
Acceptable Use Policies Links to various web pages that discuss acceptable use policies.
Children's Internet Protection Act (US) Lots of useful links and information.
About Family Information Good overviews, with useful links.
Google search: "controlling access to the internet" children Click on the link to run the search.
Google search "internet filtering software" Click on the link to run the search.

Computers in Schools

Computers in schools: by type of school, 1997/98 and 1998/99: Social Trends 30
Access to the Internet: by type of school, 1998-2000
More detailed topics for Information technology in schools
Growth in internet connection and use in British secondary schools 1997-9
Information and Communications Technology in Schools in England: 2003
Children get impatient on the net - BBC new article
Using PDAs in schools

Some examples of initiatives schools are taking on the internet

Search facilities for existing websites
Guest books
Chat rooms (currently being upgraded)
School webrings
Web polls
Calendars
Book reviews
Quizzes
Crosswords
News feeds and examples from Wolverhampton Grammer school are here.


This article is © Phil Bradley 2004 and was last updated 27th March 2004