As a parent myself I am extremely worried about internet safety – there are so many online dangers: from stumbling across inappropriate materials, to online grooming, sexting and cyber bullying. When I talk to other parents and carers it is clear that most share these concerns – but unlike other dangers such as stranger danger and road safety issues – the internet is something that we did not really experience as children.
We are the first generation of parents having to deal with internet savvy children who know much more about the online world than we do – and that makes the internet even more scary for us.
I am delighted that David Cameron has announced a new criminal offence of sexual communication with children – finally closing a loop hole in the law. Under the current law paedophiles routinely escape punishment it cannot be proved they have received an illegal image.
The new law will allow police and prosecutors to pursue those who send text messages or ‘fish’ for victims online irrespective of the outcome of their behaviour. The Serious Crime Bill currently going through Parliament will introduce a broad new offence, punishable by two years imprisonment.
This will enable the Police to pursue those that look for child victims to groom in chat rooms and on social networking sites. At the moment they can only be punished if they have possession of illegal images – the new law closes that loop hole.
To strengthen things further GCHQ will form a specialist unit with the National Crime Agency to tackle the serial offenders who hide from justice by using encrypted internet networks. New technology is also being used to add a digital fingerprint to child abuse images and videos identified by authorities that will prevent them being copied and shared.
Revenge porn (sharing private sexual images without their consent to cause distress) will be a new specific offense. It will also be illegal to possess any item that contains advice or guidance about sexually abusing children.
The new offence will include things like talking about sex to a child via a chat room or sending sexually explicit text messages to a child, as well as inviting a child to communicate sexually.
But it is essential that parents and carers don’t simply reply on internet filters and the law to keep their children safe. Where possible locate online devices in a family area where activities can be supervised or monitored. And, although it can be difficult talk to your children and grandchildren about internet safety in the same way that you talk to them about stranger danger or crossing the road.
Another pit we often fall into as parents is to block and ban the internet if we feel our child is in danger. The problem with this approach is that if our child thinks this will be the outcome they won’t tell us if they are in danger. And, it is not really fair to punish the victim for something that is not their fault by removing access to something they enjoy doing, and if used safely is a good thing.
Again, easier said than done. But try not to interrogate them. It can make them nervous. Try and ask their advice about what they do online in a friendly, non- judgemental way to find out what they are up to.
E-safety is about good parenting not technology. The same parenting skills apply online as offline – don’t let the internet scare you into not protecting your children. For more information about keeping your children safe online, visit: www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/esafety