Young people use social media and online networking to keep in touch with their friends, and even to make new friends. While most of the time, it's relatively harmless, it's important to be aware of the potential risks of interacting with people online.
Not everybody online is who they say they are, so it's important that your child is aware of the dangers of accepting messages and friend requests from people they don't know in the real world. Online predators might use false names and pictures to pretend to be someone else. Remind your child to be vigilant.
Children should also be careful about the content they choose to post online. The internet and online social networks can seem to offer a false sense of anonymity and protection, but it's important to remember that anything posted online has entered a public domain and is no longer under the control of the person who has posted it. Messages and pictures can be reposted and manipulated and may be seen by people who your child does not them to be seen by. A good question to have in mind when posting online is, "Would I want my grandparents or teachers to see this?" If the answer is "No", then it probably shouldn't go online.
Encourage your child to keep their privacy settings updated so that their information is only available to people they know and have chosen to share with. Some social networks, such as Twitter, allow anybody to follow a user. If your child does not want to be followed by people they don’t know, they can lock their accounts.
Talk to your child about how to keep their personal information safe online. They may be posting things unwittingly open them up to risks, like their home address or the name of the school, or even where they are going to be at a certain time. Also remind them to log out of social networks, especially on public computers and on their mobiles. This will minimise the risk of their accounts being hacked and misused.
A guide to online social networks
We've put together a glossary of terms for anyone who wants to know a little more about online networking. You can also read our guide to the different types of social media and apps out there.
Instant messaging: this allows users to chat to each other online (like having a telephone conversation via text rather than talking). There are various formats used by different software companies but they all do the same thing. MSN (Microsoft Networking) is the instant messaging system used by Microsoft, AIM stands for 'AOL instant messaging', while Meebo connects them all. Social network sites like Facebook also offer live chatting between friends who happen to be online at the same time.
Social networking site: for example, Facebook or Bebo. Users create their own page or profile - including details like a photograph, likes and dislikes. Communicating with other members is done on a 'friends' basis. So your child can ask another member, or be asked, to become a 'friend' in their network. Once accepted, friends will automatically be able to communicate with each other and see each other's profile or page. Messages can be posted publicly or sent privately. Users can also upload photos and videos for others to see.
Applications (app): An application is an internet enhancement that users can upload onto their profile for others to look at. So it could be a quiz ('which soap character are you most like?') or simply a 'where I've been' slot.
Online chat room: a virtual meeting place where users can chat to each other instantly. Conversations are open and public and anyone can join in - but users can opt for private chats.
Forum: A platform or noticeboard where people can post messages - often in response to a topic or subject. The chat isn't live or instant, but gets updated as and when people respond to messages Forums and message boards are often overseen by a moderator.
Online abbreviations to be aware of:
- POS: Parent on Shoulder
- PITH: Parent In The House
- PAW: Parents Are watching
- LOL: Laugh Out Loud
- BRB: Be Right Back
- NOOB: new to the language
- BEG: Big Evil Grin
- AFK: Away from the Keyboard
- A/S/L: this means 'age, sex, location' and is often used by paedophiles or groomers (adults posing as children to strike up sexual relationships). Alarm bells should ring if you see this posted on your child's pages
It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at email@example.com or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.
Other organisations that may be useful:
- Choose - a very helpful website has information on where to get free parental control software, and mobile phone safety, as well as information on the effectiveness of parental controls.
- Childnet International - a non-profit organisation to "help make the Internet a great and safe place for children" - www.childnet-int.org
- Net Respect specialises in 'child internet safety training'. You can download information on keeping children safe on-line and also download the KIT (Kids Internet Speak) booklet which translates kids techno talk and terms: www.netrespect.co.uk
- thinkuknow.co.uk - an education initiative by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. Click on the parents section for a whole wealth of information. You can register to receive monthly updates providing you with the latest information on internet safety and keeping your children safe online. You can also take an on-line quiz which will reveal how internet savvy (or not!) you are.
- GetNetWise - a project of the Internet Education Foundation, offers an 'on-line safety guide' as well as 'tools for parents' section: www.getnetwise.org
- GetSafeOnline - is a cross-sector UK online safety initiative: www.getsafeonline.org
- Internet Matters - advicer and guidance on keeping your children safe online: www.internetmatters.org