What can you do?
- Sit with your child and explain the risks of making friends with people online, this includes people they have never met in the real world, but also people from their past. Explain that rules that apply in the real world, also apply online and that they are there to keep them safe.
- Ensure their privacy settings on social media are set to private, so only people they know and trust can see information about them – most sites have advice to help you do this. If needed, look at this with them.
- Ask them to tell you if someone contacts them online who is not meant to (like their birth family). Ask them not to respond or accept them as a friend.
- Inform them that they will not get into trouble, that you can help and if they want to be in contact, there might be a compromise.
- If you are aware of any inappropriate contact from family members or others it is your duty to report the incident to your child’s social worker.
Social media enables us to share a huge amount about ourselves. Children (and adults) share photos, stories and even their current location, through their mobile phones and other online technologies.
Any child sharing too much personal information could be putting themselves at risk, however in the case of a child in care these risks are multiplied.
Information about their personal circumstances can be manipulated and used against them. It could be that someone from their past is looking to locate them, find out where they live or go to school. To reduce the risks ask your child not to share personal information online, such as;
- Real world locations like their home, school or current location
- Photos of them in recognisable places
Ask them not to ‘friend’ people they don’t trust in the real world
It’s not just your child who needs to think about their security, it’s the whole family. Content online can end up in unexpected places. A ‘like’ by a friend, can mean that their friends can see the photo, or even friends of friends. Make sure your whole family follow the same rules as your child.
Bullying and risk taking behaviour
Children who are seen to be ‘different’ in some way are often a target for bullies. It may be known that your child is in care and this can make them stand out at school and online.
If you are aware that your child is being bullied in the real world (at school for instance), think about how this bullying could be manifesting online. This is called cyberbullying. If your child is being bullied online there are some simple steps you can take to protect them. Childline have some great information which can help you.
As a parent or carer it is sometimes difficult to comprehend that your child could be the bully.
Children in care may be more likely to present risky behaviour to others. They may be a perpetrator or their behaviour may seem aggressive to others. They could be acting out these emotions in the online world, through the games they play or through their interaction with others.
If your child’s real world behaviour is deliberately mean or aggressive, talk to them about how hurtful this can be to others and what can happen as a result.
If you are worried about their behaviour in the real world, look into how they are acting online and talk to your child’s social worker and school.
In complex situations such as these, challenges can arise. Your child may have come from a home where their online safety was not monitored. It may come as a shock to them when you attempt to implement new settings and security on the technologies and sites they use - they may be reluctant to oblige.
They may feel that this is an invasion of their privacy, that they own these technologies and that you have no right to touch them.
To overcome these challenges, think about;
- Sitting with your child and implementing a ‘house agreement’ – explain that their safety is your main concern and that you know how easy it is to get into difficult situations online. Show them a Thinkuknow film or cartoon to reinforce these messages – take the time to watch them first to understand the key messages.
- Take it one step at a time, give them the opportunity to become accustomed to any changes before moving onto the next.
- Implement safety guidelines across the whole family, don't single them out.