As the UK enters its sixth week of lockdown, people are using the internet more than ever, while working from home, educating the kids and finding some much needed escapism.
Now, the government has released guidance urging parents to be aware of the dangers that can be lurking on the web, such as cyber bullying, online predators, disinformation and scams.
The guidance comes after a virtual meeting held last week (22 Apr) between Caroline Dinenage, the Minister for Digital and Culture, James Brokenshire, the Security Minister, and several children's charities, such as Barnardo’s, NSPCC, and Samaritans, to discuss online safety during the pandemic.
Emma Thomas, CEO of children’s charity, Young Minds, called on the government to “fully recognise the growing mental health impact that Covid-19 will continue to have on children and young people, and ensure that addressing this is a key component of the ongoing response.”
How can I keep my children safe online?
The government has recommended the following advice:
- Review the security and parental safety settings on your household devices to help control what your children can access online and protect them from inappropriate content. Here is a step by step guide from Internet Matters, to help you properly utilise these controls
- Encourage your children to speak out if they come across any content makes them feel uncomfortable. You can use this helpful guide from ChildNet to get the conversation started
- If you find any harmful content, report it to The UK Safer Internet Centre
- Encourage sensible sharing. Talk to your children about sharing photos and information online, as well as how photos and words can often be manipulated
- Additionally, parents and carers should not assume that children consent to their photos to be shared online
What is the government's advice on screen time?
In addition to the security guidelines, the government has issued the following advice regarding the amount of time spent on smart devices, with the help of The UK’s Chief Medical Officer:
- Manage the amount of time each family member spends online, to avoid excessive usage, which can damage mental health. Some devices, such as iPhones, come with inbuilt features to allow you to track the amount of time spent on your phone
- Keep your children's sleep cycles regulated and ensure they take exercise breaks after a couple of hours of using a screen
- Enjoy screen-free family activities - such as family dinner time - to encourage face-to-face conversation, so parents can give their full attention to their children
CEO of internet safety charity ChildNet, Will Gardner, said, “Technology has proved to be enormously important in these unprecedented times. We know that children are benefitting hugely from being connected, but we also know it’s even more important that we take steps to keep them safe and happy whilst online.
“That’s why we welcome guidance which brings together practical and simple advice for families in this difficult period.”
In addition to these guidelines, the government announced earlier this year that it was keen to appoint the communications watchdog Ofcom as an online regulator, to enforce a statutory duty of care to protect users from harmful content.