LETTER: Protect your kids online

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A recent YouGov study for Barnardo’s has found that barely half of adults who bought internet connected presents for children this Christmas will check who the youngsters are communicating with online.

While more than 80 per cent of those who had bought or planned to buy an internet connected gift for a child said they were aware that strangers could contact and connect with the child through them, just 55 per cent said they would monitor who the youngsters were talking to.

Almost ten per cent of those surveyed intended to buy an internet connected gift for a child this Christmas, meaning as many as four million such devices, including smart phones and tablets, were given to youngsters this year, with more than half bought for a child aged ten or under.

However, only six-in-ten adults who bought these gifts for children will activate the maximum privacy settings designed to help keep children safe when they are online.

The results make clear a gulf between the public’s appreciation of the potential risks posed to children by the internet and the action they should take to reduce them.

Barnardo’s has long been calling to make the internet safer and for parents to be more aware of mobile technology children are using and who they’re talking to online. Our concern is that the digital revolution is enabling the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and young people via the internet and mobile devices.

We understand how vital the online world is to children, but also how the risks can damage their childhood.

Last year, Barnardo’s supported almost 3,500 people nationally through its child sexual exploitation support services, an increase of 38 per cent on the previous year.

Internet connected devices like tablets and iPhones can also come in the guise of harmless dolls or teddies and potentially allow strangers to pinpoint your address, obtain your child’s name and birthday, download their photograph and even listen in on conversations.

We are not saying ‘don’t allow your children to enjoy these toys or devices’, but we are urging parents and relatives to ensure their children are as safe as possible by ensuring privacy settings are at maximum and that they monitor who their child is communicating with.

Lynn Perry

Barnardo’s regional director, Midlands