Sensible: Anyone with children will know how addictive smartphone apps such as Facebook and Snapchat and WhatsApp have become
For parents, the dizzying array of dangers posed to their families by the latest technology is trumped by one threat above all others: social media.
Anyone with children in their teens or younger will know how addictive smartphone apps such as Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram have become.
Many hours are lost to staring at small screens as children chat with schoolfriends or play games.
But, as the Mail has repeatedly highlighted, social media is littered with all sorts of dangers for impressionable children.
The rise of ‘suicide games’ which target children, for example, will strike fear into every parent’s heart.
The ‘Momo Challenge’, also dubbed ‘Slenderman 2018’, is believed to have started in a Facebook group. It involves a creepy character called Momo who encourages children to add a contact on the messaging service WhatsApp. The contact will then hound the child with violent images and dares — terrifyingly, the last one being for the child to kill themselves.
Meanwhile, the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’, which became notorious in 2016, urged participants to take part in a series of harmful tasks, such as cutting themselves, over a course of 50 days.
More than 86 per centof three to four-year-olds have access to a tablet computer at home such as an iPad. One in five has a computer of their own. Some 76 per centof children aged six have access to devices such as smartphones. By the age of ten this is 92 per cent; by 12, it is 96 per cent.
So what can parents do to ensure their child is safe online?
With the help of experts, we reveal seven top strategies . . .
1) DON’T BAN THE INTERNET
Our natural instincts are to protect our child by stopping them from going online at all.
But Maithreyi Rajeshkumar, policy and communications manager at children’s online safety charity Childnet, says: ‘The internet offers so many opportunities for children and young people to learn, connect and play.’
While you could set some rules — such as no internet after bedtime — restricting access too much risks alienating your child from their friends.
She adds: ‘Sites such as Instagram and Facebook allow young people to be creative, keep in touch with friends and share photos or video.’
2) TALK TO YOUR CHILD
The most effective way to monitor your child’s life online is through direct discussion.
Talk to younger children about strangers online. Warn them about scams and dangers by openly discussing news stories about social media — if they have stumbled across them too it opens up a conversation.
Bring up the dangers of sharing information, passwords, bank details and photos online.
Be alert to cyber- bullying and ‘sexting’ — talk about the risks of sharing private photos or posting hurtful comments. And when your child confides in you, don’t overreact.
Ms Rajeshkumar says: ‘If you give the impression you feel the internet is bad, your child might not tell you about a worry.’
3) GO ONLINE WITH THEM
Buying school uniform or researching a new recipe? Ask your child to do the research for you.
Or both search online together — teaching your child how to identify trusted websites, avoid scams and purchase goods safely. Download games together so you know they are from a reputable site — and make sure you both check out reviews so you know they are suitable.
4) JOIN IN ON SOCIAL MEDIA
‘Parents often feel their child knows more than they do about technology,’ says Ms Rajeshkumar.
Yet while it’s important to remember that as a parent you are the life expert, it can be a good idea to join in with your child on social media.
For example, if your teenage daughter has confidence issues over her body and likes following a particular celebrity on Instagram, you might gain more insight into social media influences and trends if you follow that celebrity, too.
It also gives you a starting point for sensitive discussions.
5) USE TOOLS THAT SUIT KIDS
Check websites and apps before younger children use them, and ensure they are using a computer in a busy part of the house such as in the kitchen or living room.
You can tweak settings on devices to block adult content, stop unsuitable in-app purchases and even disable the camera on a phone.
Meanwhile, your internet provider, such as BT or TalkTalk, can provide free filters to help block inappropriate content.
But technology should never be used to ‘babysit’ your child — and it cannot replace conversation and supervision by you.
While social media sites have a minimum user age of 13, your child or their friends might access them away from home before this. Additionally, your safety tools have no effect when your child goes to a friend’s house where there are none.
6) DON’T SPY ON THEM
Although many social media sites can give you valuable reassurances that your child is fine — Instagram and WhatsApp both tell you when someone was last active, which is reassuring when your older teenager is out and about — you shouldn’t use the internet to snoop on your child.
Checking your daughter’s phone when she’s asleep, examining your son’s internet history, using apps to check texts or to track children’s whereabouts could backfire with your child accusing you of intruding on their privacy.
Similarly, commenting on their Facebook posts could push them to use another social media site you don’t even know about.
Far better to develop a trusting face-to-face relationship.
7) SET A GOOD EXAMPLE
Are you always chatting to friends online, too? Manage your child’s online time by restricting yours, suggesting you both have time away from the internet.
Even teenagers are never too old to enjoy a good old-fashioned family day out.