The Overwhelming Challenge of Supervising Childrens’ Online Activity

There used to be a standard rule for parents about supervising their childrens’ internet surfing – make sure you take the computer out of their bedroom and into the living room. No longer does this rule work. With the introduction of 3G and 4G technology, lap tops, smartphones and mobile gaming consoles which all connect to the internet, our children can be online without even using a computer.

The challenges for parents are becoming so difficult:

An Ofcom study last year found that 91 per cent of children live in a household with internet access, but that only half of parents of five to 15-year-olds supervised their children’s internet use. A further three million children aged eight to 15 have a smartphone, according to a YouGov survey published in January.

Increasingly, there are fears about the content children are accessing, whether deliberately or by mistake, when they are unsupervised online.

Last week, a cross-party group of MPs warned that it was too easy for children to view pornography. They called for legislation to force internet providers to block access automatically to pornographic websites.

The potential for teenagers to outwit their parents is frequently used as an argument for network-level filtering. Its supporters argue that too many parents lack the technical know-how to secure their computers properly and too few will opt in to a filtering system that is not compulsory.

Set against that are free speech concerns: is it right that an internet provider decides which content is acceptable to be viewed and which should be banned? How do they decide what constitutes “adult” content – and what happens if they get it wrong?

Further, as Nicholas Lansman, of the Internet Service Providers Association, argues, such technology can give parents a false sense of security, leading to less active monitoring of what children are up to online. Filters can fail or be circumvented, and left to their own devices, teenagers will find a way to get what they want.

Technology can help but it can only go so far. Parents must set boundaries and discuss the risks with their children.

Tony Neate, chief executive of Get Safe Online, says: “It is very important to talk to your child about being safe online, taking them through the risks and what they mean. This includes not just your home PC, but anywhere where internet access is involved – including mobile phones and game consoles.

“Don’t be afraid to ask your own questions to get a sense of what they are getting up to online.”

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