Safe Internet Day is this week, so here's some tips on keeping your kids safe online

With children often knowing more about the digital world than their parents here are some tips on keeping up, writes Caroline Delaney.

Back when the internet was first becoming mainstream, I had a temp job in an internet café. Remember dial-up tones and having to scan photos to send them?

Clients popped in on quiet mornings to play Solitaire to boost their ‘mouse skills’ — some people lifted the mouse up and pointed it at the screen like an arcade game gun.

I wonder what the nice gentleman who jammed the coins into the disk drive is doing now — and even the more tech-savvy ones were prone to clicking on every ad and opening dozens of pages at a time.

Using a mouse was a fiddly new skill; we thought some version of Facetime was still only for Star Trek crew, and we all blundered through and tried not to welcome too many viruses or people trying to dispose of inherited millions into our lives.

Now, especially if you’ve got primary school kids, you’ll feel like an out-moded sci-fi show android as you watch their hands skitter confidently over the keypads of new devices they probably got for Christmas.

It wasn’t too tricky to keep an eye on them during school holidays when we were all happy to be indoors, but now they’ve advanced exponentially and are trying to skulk off somewhere for privacy with new chat and picture apps.

You might think that opening up a friendly, safe site or series of YouTube videos is the best way for younger children but I’ve learned you’re really only buying yourself a small bit of time. Pop-up ads begging you to ‘click here to win a holiday’ or fake virus warnings will swoosh your child over to ‘beautiful girls just waiting to chat’ or ‘real murder scenes’ in an instant.

Even Barney’s sidekick is a potential menace online if you haven’t good parental controls installed — he’s called BJ in case you didn’t know.

Today is Safe Internet Day so it’s a perfect time to check out ways of blocking online trouble and boosting your knowledge about your kids’ new tablets and games.

Avril Ronan is global programme director at IT security company, TrendMicro which has its Irish headquarters on Cork’s Model Farm Road. She spends quite a bit of time visiting schools and hosting school visits focusing on internet safety as part of the company’s free social responsibility work.

“We offer practical advice to parents on how to educate themselves about online safety. There are things to consider when choosing a child-friendly smart device. I would say to research together about privacy. Children are just so clever now at using computers and apps and you, the adult, brings life experience so it’s a perfect match. You don’t have to know all the answers. Use sites such as commonsensemedia.org to read up on a game or app.”

Avril, with three young children herself, is well aware of how popular and even necessary technology is to children and teens.

“Yes people make mistakes online but you want them to know that they can come to you when they do something stupid as so many of them will. We tell the students we talk to that there are options out there. If they can’t talk to their parents, teacher or another adult then there are online supports.

“The Samaritans and ISPCC — you can text, call or email. You can make an anonymous call to gardai.”

She acknowledges that you might have the best ‘net nanny’ installed at home but then your child goes to a pal’s house where the same security or supervision isn’t in place.

“The majority of kids will do something stupid online so the key is that when they do they can come to you and talk about the thing they have done, said, or witnessed.”

Avril gets the teens to analyse why someone might send naked pictures or videos of themselves.

“It’s all about street cred. You might think it’s ok or cool to send a pic to a boyfriend or to a girl but if they send it to just one person and that person sends it to just one more person, how many people will eventually see?”

“We also explain exactly what grooming is,” said Avril, before noting that young people may not realise that they are being groomed or have been groomed in the past.

Cybersmarties.com is an Irish company running a safe social network for kids — it’s dedicated to training children early in how to behave online.

Their free site includes features for parents such as instructions on how to turn on parental controls on different devices as well as classroom bullying and cyber-safety resources.

Cybersmarties chief executive, Diarmuid Hudner said: “We now have a Kids Channel which provides both cartoon and educational videos from across the world and is something we are really interested in as it is now our own channel. We will produce our own cartoons in-house from April, working with a video team and children’s author/animator.”

Sometimes though it seems like children will take a message on board far easier if it comes from someone ‘cool’ (ie not over 30).

So TrendMicro have come up with an online youth campaign — school students come up with their own videos about the internet, its uses, abuses, advantages and disadvantages. These are available to parents and pupils and during training talks during the year. There are cash prizes and the competition launches again on February 10 and runs for 10 weeks.

Last year’s winners are still available online — you’ll see good examples of rock-solid students who are aware of the fantastic possibilities, and dangers, of the internet.

Camera-shy Zuckerberg can teach us a valuable lesson

It might feel like a shame to stick a tatty bit of masking tape over what might be the sleekest, most high-tech thing in your house. But this low-tech, non-permanent solution to a potentially dangerous online attack could be a smart move.

Facebook boss, Mark Zuckerberg, does it — his laptop was visible in the background of a pic he posed for. The webcam and mic on his machine are taped over. A little paranoid?

Hacking Zuckerberg’s computer would be the ultimate challenge for cyber geeks looking to make a name for themselves or siphon off some of his cash. But the possibility of someone remotely hacking a device and being able to silently switch on the camera whenever suits them is enough to make me reach for the duct tape.

FBI director, James Comey, admitted: “I put a piece of tape over the camera because I saw somebody smarter than I am had a piece of tape over their camera.”

Avril Ronan, of TrendMicro, recommends the same: “You can still use your camera whenever you want to — but it’s when you choose to. We have little camera covers that stick on to your device but — all our techies have webcam covers that you can just slide open.”

Department considering age of ‘digital consent’

Parents of cute newborns or toddlers who just keep on giving you ‘internet gold’ by falling asleep into their dinner or trying to pronounce big words might think they have years and years before they have to worry about their child’s behaviour online.

But it might be tricky to limit your child to a half hour’s screen time per day when they’re a pre-teen if you’ve spent the previous 10 years documenting every outfit, meal, and holiday online.

Ireland’s Department of Justice and Equality has launched a consultation process on the statutory “age of digital consent” to be applied in Ireland in the case of information society services offered directly to children. Currently, the age of digital consent here is 13 but this could be revised upwards as far as 16.



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