Keep calm and stay connected
It’s Safer Internet Day. Today our Director of Children and Family Services, Mary Glasgow, takes part in a panel discussion at a Microsoft conference alongside the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), Young Scot, the Safer Internet Centre and Microsoft UK. The topic - ‘How can young people benefit from the internet and protect their online reputation?’ Here Mary shares her thoughts ahead of the event.
As a children’s charity we tend to look at the internet from a child protection and well-being perspective. So it’s brilliant to be invited to join a conversation with organisations who’ll also focus on the huge benefits children get from being online.
The internet is a marvellous thing for children. It’s transformed lives. It’s enabled people to connect. And, from Children 1st's experience supporting children and families, I know connections are key; between parents and children, schools and families, and across communities.
Online connections can reduce isolation, inform and empower. Where circumstances or geography make it hard to otherwise connect with the world, they can be a lifeline.
The internet is critical to modern working. For Children 1st it enables us to reach new audiences and be a stronger public voice for children and families. We need to prepare children to make best use technology that will be integral to their future working lives.
We need to be realistic about online risks to children, but also keep them in perspective. Many are age old – some of the people who target children online would undoubtedly target them in other ways if it didn’t exist. But the internet does appear to increase the dangers. As networks get wider the methods for causing harm become more covert and sophisticated, and harder to understand.
Today we’ll be talking about how young people can protect their online reputation. As they increasingly share details of their lives and emotions online, it’s a vital question. I don’t have an easy answer. It’s difficult for my generation to understand children’s online culture, and its pressures. It’s so far removed from when I was a child. But as a professional and a parent I do think that the boundary between someone’s online profile and offline life is a myth. What you put online may be intended to create a persona, but it doesn’t go away and can have big and long lasting repercussions.
When I talk to young people about this I ask them to imagine their future self. As a worker, a parent, or in whatever role you choose, how will you feel if your online profile from childhood comes back to haunt you? Children no longer have the luxury of thinking solely about the person they want to be today; they also have to think years, even decades ahead. And there are lots of distressed young people who have been either pressured or misled into putting really intimate statements or photographs online. That leads to distress, feelings of shame, and potentially even more serious consequences.
Parents have got an important part to play. They can inform themselves about the internet and talk to their children about its benefits and risks before they have ventured too far into the online world. Wait until something goes wrong, then conversations become tinged with shame and worry and open communication becomes harder.
Part of being a connected parent is keeping informed about where your children go, who they meet and what they do. Today this applies online as much as off. The internet should be seen as a place that children go to. A child might be in their bedroom, but remember if online they’re also out in the big wide world.
Many callers to our ParentLine and Kinship Care helplines are anxious about the internet, particularly where their child is proficient and they’re not. But where a child knows more than their parent it can be a great opportunity to strengthen relationships. Most kids love being asked to share expertise, and learning from them can be fun. You’ll show that you’re interested in their world, and not just expecting them to conform to yours.
Part of the internet’s appeal for young people is its potential for privacy. It’s natural for them keep some things from their parents. We will all have done things when we were younger that our parents had no knowledge of – I know I did, and I also think it was my right! It’s a rite of passage and, for adolescents, a key developmental stage which rarely has catastrophic consequences. So yes, know the risks, talk about it, but keep the whole thing in proportion.
Anyone who would like to talk through a concern about a child can call ParentLine Scotland on 08000 28 22 33.