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Following our earlier articles regarding the rise of social networking and its potential privacy issues and our coverage of subjects such as cyber-bullying, when we heard the results of Ofcom’s latest report it raised a number of concerns.

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

Last month Ofcom released a report into children’s web access and their online habits.

The report shows that 35% of 12-15 year olds and 16% of 8-11 year olds now have access to the web in their bedrooms, up 20% and 9% respectively since 2007. Worryingly 60% of 12-15 year olds and one third of 8-11 year olds use the internet mostly on their own and one in five 5-7 year olds say they use the internet without an adult in the room.

From the parents’ point of view 45% of those whose children use the Internet at home state they have filtering software and controls in place but this leaves an obvious 55% of children using the Internet unsupervised with no parental restrictions in place.

Whilst the majority of parents say they trust their child to use the internet safely it is still the platform that causes parents the most concern when compared to television, radio, games consoles and mobile phones. So if it is of concern, why are parents not restricting their children’s web access more? One in ten parents said they didn’t know such controls were available. And this is where we think the problem truly lies, within the education of parents.

Whilst the report’s list of children aged 6-11’s top 50 visited websites appears very innocent with entries such as CBeebies and Disney online it also unsurprisingly includes social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo and instant messenger services such as MSN which as previously reported can be easily misused and have a number of potential privacy issues. Also unsurprisingly is the list of top 50 sites for children aged 12-17 includes a lot more social networking sites and media sites such as iTunes and BBC iPlayer than in the younger children’s choices.

This brings us back once again to the age old problem of keeping kids safe online through education of both children and their parents. Reassuringly 71% of 8-11 year olds and 84% of 12-15 year olds say they have lessons about the Internet at school. So how do we educate the parents? Whilst a number of online materials are available in the form of hints and guides the report statistics show that knowledge of best practices and available software is not wide spread. Perhaps this is where Ofcom and the government need to step in to provide more education to parents.

Whilst many of these stats raise obvious concerns the findings of the report are not all doom and gloom and indicate that many children are more Internet savvy than we give them credit for. Two-thirds of children aged 12-15 (66%) make some kind of check when visiting new websites and whilst use of social networking sites has unsurprisingly risen children aged 12-15 with a social networking profile are now more likely to restrict access to their profiles so that they can be seen only by their friends. Maybe they read our article… or maybe they are just making sure their parents can’t see their profiles!

The key message to take away from this report is that children’s usage of the Internet is continuing to increase, using new technologies and software from increasingly younger ages.  And their Internet usage is no longer just restricted to the family PC, now children access the Internet via games consoles and mobile phones. This report highlights the essential need for education of younger children on the possible risks of using the Internet and best practices for staying safe (ideally via their schools) alongside an ongoing requirement for education of parents. Parents need to stay ahead of their kids because you can guarantee whatever they put in place to restrict their access, some kids will soon find ways to bypass it.

A number of helpful tips and guides can be found by searching online that can help you and your children stay safe.

Have your say!

What do you think about the results of Ofcom’s report? Would you let your children access the web unsupervised? Do you think parents are aware of the possible risks? and whose job is it to provide that education? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.

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