The internet is a wonderful tool, offering a wealth of information, opportunities and discovery but it also has a dark side, especially for fostered and adopted children.
As adoptive parents, we have to contend with the risks all parents face of Cyber-Bullying, Viewing Adult and Violent images, Sexting, Trolling, Grooming and Identity Theft; we also have the added risk of our children tracing and contacting their birth parents.
If we provide our children with internet enabled devices we run this risk, and if we don’t we risk making them ‘different’ from their friends.
As both a parent and a tutor, I firmly believe that in order to successfully parent you need to be aware of all the facts.
Few parents realise the sexual brutality which is freely available to view under the term “Online Porn”. Many still think it’s like Playboy. I’ve worked with children of 11 and 12 who regularly view hardcore online porn, and they are putting parental filters on younger siblings computers.In their words, “I’m old enough to see it, but they’re too young”! What are the parents doing?
We are the 1st generation of parents who need to have “The Talk” and “the Porn Talk”.However many filters we put in place, there will be children with free internet access who are willing to show ours. It’s crucial we help our children understand that what they see on line is not normal sexual behaviour.The people doing it are actors playing out fantasy roles as they do in feature films.
Adopted and Fostered children are more susceptible to online grooming. A lot of online grooming through video chat sites is carried out by people in foreign countries. They seek to achieve sexual contact via webcams and video links. As these people can be based abroad there is almost nothing the British Police can do, but report it to the Police Authority in the relevant country.
Cyber-bullying affects approximately 1/3rd of children currently. Cyber-bullying is 24/7 and often anonymous, so the target does not even know who is doing it. We need to help our children understand that they are being picked on not because of the way they are, but because of the Bully’s problems. In ourHappy Kids Don’t Bully programme we explore why people bully. The answer is always the same. It’s a coping behaviour displayed by people who need the power and control which is missing from their lives. This applies to adults as well as children.
Sexting is a rapidly growing trend amongst all children. The explanation for this is , in part due to accessibility of online porn and that perception of what is ‘sexy’ and ‘cool’; combined with examples set by celebrities like Rihanna who commented that “if you don’t send your boyfriend naked pictures, then I feel bad for him”. Statistics vary, but many state that a third of young people had either sent or received naked pictures via text or email. Many feel pressured into doing so. Children in care who may have been exposed to the sex industry in their former lives, can be more susceptible to this type of behaviour as they can see it as ok. Interestingly enough these same children are often horrified at the thought of their siblings being involved!
So what can you do?
Protecting children from contacting birth families via social media
- Try not to let your child know their birth parents surname. It’s difficult to find someone when you only have their forename.
- Avoid photos on school websites which name your child and/or age.
- Verify your contacts on social media and set both your and your child’s settings as tightly as possible, so only people you have accepted as friends can see your posts, photos etc.
- Have the password to your child’s social media accounts and monitor their contacts. Many children have moved on from Facebook to Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, PinInterest, Faceparty, Kik etc.
- Talk to your children, explain the risksIt could happen and think about what you will do if contact is made.
To generally keep your children safe online
- Use software which will tell you what sites your child has been on Microsoft Windows Live Family Safety is FREE and it will tell you which sites they have been on.
- Use Parental Filters, either “Whitelist” which blocks every site and you then choose which sites your child can visit, or “Blacklist” where you set an age range, allowing the software to choose what to block and allow.
- Remember that most children now access the internet via mobile phone or tablet. Apply filters there..
- Block sites like Chatroulette.com and Pinkroulette.com which have no control over who the children are linking up with.
- Be draconian with Video and Geo-social apps. These are called hook-up apps for a reason.
- Teach your children that Happy Kids Don’t Bully. Help them understand that if they are targeted it is not their fault, but all to do with the Bully’s coping behaviour.
- If your child is physically bullied, treat it as assault and ensure the school works with the bully to help them deal with their problems. Unfortunately very few schools currently do this.
- Attend any workshops you can on Online Safety to keep your knowledge up to date.
Penny Steinhauer has been teaching Online Safety and Anti-Bullying since 2009. She is a member of UKCCIS, the Anti Bullying Alliance, the Children in Wales Preventing Bullying Behaviours Group. Penny has taught thousands of adults and children how to keep safe online and how to deal with bullying. She has recently received a grant of £5000 from the Big Lottery fund to run Happy Kids Don’t Bully workshops for 3000 children in Wales.
For further info go to www.eyepat.org. You can purchase the EyePAT 200 page Online Safety Information Guide in print format for £13+ £P&P, on CD for £5.40 + P&P and as a download for £4.79. You can order from http://eyepat.org/safetyguide