Statistics on any subject need to have context and be read in the right way. The recent statistics from OfCom on the use of parental filters and a general picture about the use of the Internet by our kids does a good job of providing some insight, but let’s not get carried away.
For example, one in ten 12-15 year olds said they have seen sexual content on a mobile handset. Lets dissect this for a moment, that’s four separate years of kids, 25% of each year group, allowing an even split for male and female, that’s 12.5% of any specific year groups gender. Now ask yourself the question does it surprise you that the majority of 15 year old boys have seen a topless woman on a handset? The answer is probably that you would expect this to be the case. By including the younger years in this statistic, it makes it a headline rather than a meaningful statistic. I should point out I am not agreeing that it’s ok, I am just trying to add a little thoughtful context.
The report of course highlights some important issues and these should be the takeaways from this data. Only 43% of parents have filtering in place, which is a major concern. The report then goes on to say that parent’s believe their kids are more tech savvy than they are, and in my eyes, that’s the crux of the matter. In my previous blog post and during my presentation at CIS this year, I congratulated the government on an excellent start of adding filter ‘on’ by default and at the same time highlighted my concern that it may cause a problem, and according to these stats then it may be doing just that.
Put yourself in the shoes of a regular parent; not that computer literate, busy with home life and being the best parent they can be. The newspapers have been filled with awesome stories that the government is regulating the situation and that parental filters will be turned on by default, our kids will all be safe. That’s great, one less job to do as a parent.
How wrong these parents are, but you could appreciate this may be their view. What the government have stated is, in my opinion, a great start but will cause complacency and means parents will sit back and think it’s been sorted by the government. They will not consider a joined up approach that includes time and device management, chat rooms, instant messenger, etc.
The Internet is so much broader than porn images that may of course be shocking, which is why I call on the government to take parents into a class room, engage with them in any way possible and teach them what the Internet is and how to stay safe. Make Internet Safety a mandatory course for parents as part of sending their kids to school, after all they have to sign up to a schools acceptable usage policy for the Internet before their kids are allowed the use it at school so it would seem like the optimum moment to make sure they understand the risks and their role in keeping their kids safe online.
Tablet growth in the report is, again, not unexpected. I am sure deeper in the report we would find that many of these kids are multi-device users just as we are as adults. I know my house is this way and that my son has regular use of a tablet, AndroidTM phone and a laptop that is mandatory for school work.
There is one very scary element of the report, this bit about being in communication with people that are not known. Come on parents, this one is just not acceptable. You need to take charge of who your kids are interacting with and explain the reasons why they need to be cautious.
We teach our kids to cross the road, stop look and listen, the same applies on the Internet. If you get a friend request then stop, look at it to see if you know them, listen to the advice you have been given about stranger danger.
I am not sure though how you fix this beyond spying on your kids and with 14-15 year olds this becomes challenging. Maybe social networks should allow a three way relationship for our kids? Friend requests need agreement from the parent and the kid, that way we would know who they are talking to but still allow them the full space they need to talk to others without us spying.
One question I have for all you parents out there is, just how many friends do you have online? Are they real friends and have you met them all? If you read this and think, “Oh he means me”, then yes I do. I think the majority of parents are not leading by example and this of course sends the wrong message to our kids.
My message to Mr Cameron on this Ofcom data is that I hope he understands that what he has started is great but we need so much more to be done to keep our kids safe and we need him to make this point whenever talking about this subject.