Four in five of our kids surf without safety net - Belfast Telegraph

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Report highlights our children's relationship with online world

Four out of five children in Northern Ireland use the internet at home on computers with no safety settings.

The revelation in a new report by communications watchdog Ofcom was laid bare yesterday on Safer Internet Day.

It also emerged that one-third of local children aged between five and 15 own a smartphone, while almost half (43%) have a social networking profile.

A separate study by the National Children's Bureau NI found that more than one in five young people in Northern Ireland spends five or more hours a day online.

It said that most of the young people surveyed were using social networking sites, although many parents didn't know what their children were doing.

Charity director Celine McStravick said parents need to talk to their children about the websites they are accessing online and set boundaries.

"If their children are spending a long time on the internet they should really be curious. Who are they talking to? What games are they playing?" she said.

"Have they checked the age rating of those games? Have they really checked what they are buying online?

"It's all part of building boundaries. All parents do that offline, so we should be doing that online."

The NCB NI's research was commissioned by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the interim findings were released to coincide with Safer Internet Day.

Internet safety expert Jim Gamble, former boss of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre, said there was an obvious solution to these problems, which aren't new.

"We describe web cams and sexting as new and, or emerging problems, but the fact is they are not: we've been dealing with them for years," he said.

"What we need is one consolidated online centre focused on getting people who need advice, support or an easy mechanism, to report into the right space.

"If we do that simple thing and make it easy to access information, we will have leap-frogged everyone else and Safer Internet Day will be every and any day a member of our public needs it."

Meanwhile, research by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has revealed that over half of 11-16 year olds who had been upset by online behaviour said the person responsible was either a stranger or someone they had met through the internet.

Neil Anderson from NSPCC Northern Ireland said making the internet safer was "the child protection challenge of this generation".

The NCB NI said that while the vast majority (87%) of young people they surveyed said they went online to access social networking sites, a similar number (81%) said they watched video clips.

Almost three-quarters of those questioned (73%) said they usually downloaded films, music and books, while 63% said they used it to help them with homework.

Singular approach needed to safeguard youngsters, writes Jim Gamble

Did you notice that yesterday was Safer Internet Day and, if so, what did you think?

Do you feel better informed, better able to navigate the online world or advise you kids?

The fact is few parents, let alone children, know where to go when they need help because the online safety sector is congested with too many charities, too many agencies with competing agendas – and confusion generally rules.

What we need is a simple and co-ordinated approach.

We don't need to repaint old problems. We describe webcams and sexting as new and, or emerging problems.

But the fact is they are not: we've been dealing with them for years.

It's high time for someone to take the lead because this isn't an industry that should be driven by competition. It needs to be driven by mature collaboration.

Big charities guard their ground like big business and small charities are forced to fight for funding.

Governments, including the one at Westminster, have an appalling record when it comes to online protection. They seek the path of least resistance, what's easy and cheap and what will pass for a commitment to protect our children.

Governments find it easy to attack the internet industry, but have difficulty when it comes to challenging their own performance. In Northern Ireland we have the opportunity to do things better, to create smarter responses, but we haven't.

Whatever the shortcomings of the study we don't need to reinvent a wheel.

A one-stop shop for our families and children is not rocket science. It has been done before.

One consolidated online centre focused on getting people who need advice or an easy mechanism to report into the right space.

If we do that, make it easy to access and the information understandable, we will have leap-frogged everyone else and Safer Internet Day will be every and any day a member of our public needs it.



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