The issue of children’s online safety is a constant concern for parents, and has been highlighted recently due to the murder of 16-year-old Brianna Ghey. The killers, Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe, planned the crime through messaging apps, with Jenkinson having viewed violent content on the dark web. Brianna’s mother, Esther, believes the government should restrict young people’s access to harmful online content.
So, what can parents do to ensure their children’s online safety? Ofcom research indicates that children aged eight to 17 spend between two to five hours online daily, with time spent increasing with age. Almost every child over 12 owns a mobile phone and uses platforms like YouTube or TikTok. Despite half of children over 12 believing that being online benefits their mental health, one in eight children reported experiencing online bullying.
Parents can utilize control functions to monitor their children’s online activities. Internet Matters, a safety organization, provides a list of parental controls and guides on how to use them. For instance, YouTube offers a “kids” version that filters out adult content, and allows parents to supervise their children’s accounts. Similar supervision can be set up on Facebook Messenger.
Mobile networks may block explicit websites until users prove they are over 18. Android and Apple devices also offer apps and systems for parental control. These can limit access to certain apps, restrict explicit content, prevent purchases, and monitor browsing.
However, these controls are not infallible. Some parents find them confusing to set up, and some children manage to bypass them. Therefore, open conversations about online safety are crucial.
The government’s new Online Safety Act aims to make tech firms more accountable for their platforms’ content. However, it will take time before it is fully implemented. Esther Ghey believes the Act doesn’t go far enough and advocates for limiting children’s access to social media apps and enabling parents to monitor their children’s online searches. Conservative MP Miriam Cates has also suggested banning under 16s from social media and smartphones, but Prime Minister Rishi Sunak asserts that the Online Safety Act already protects children from harmful content.