Politically Speaking in the Wakefield Express – my digital safety campaign

Keeping our kids safe is the most important job a parent has to do. And when it comes to crossing the road or learning to ride a bike, it’s usually parents who are the experts. We all remember learning the Green Cross Code when we were young. And we feel confident sharing our expertise with our children and teach them how to be safe. But online safety is a whole different ballgame.  Because when it comes to using computers, firewalls and the like, adults and children change places.  We have no previous experience to draw on. And suddenly it’s the kids who know more – sometimes much more – than we do.

“It’s a nightmare” one parent told me. “It’s so hard to keep track of what they’re doing” said another. I can only nod in agreement. As a parent myself I know how hard is to get the right balance between encouraging children to investigate, to understand and to use the internet whilst at the same time, making sure that they’re safe. I remember well how shocked I was when I discovered that YouTube had a minimum age for children of 13!

That’s why I’ve launched a digital safety campaign with local parents, and local schools to better understand what more Government needs do to support parents, children and young people to keep them safe online.

As part of my campaign I joined local Neighbourhood Police Sergeant Mark Chamberlain at Stanley Grove primary school to discuss Digital Safety with a class of Year 6 children. And they had some fascinating stories to share. Thet were all clued up about not giving personal information away in chat rooms. But some were worried about online bullying or how they could know which websites were safe. And one asked, “what happens when you click the report button on a website?” I promised to come back with answers.

And getting answers for parents is vital too. Those who’ve completed my digital survey over the last few weeks have told me they don’t think existing rules – such as the minimum ages recommended for children to access sites like Facebook or You Tube  - Can be properly enforced. They want parental controls to be automatically installed to help parents who don’t have good digital skills themselves, which was one of the recommendations of the Byron review into internet safety a few years back.

Schools already do some great work with children online and teach them valuable skills to keep them safe online. But Government and the police have an important role to play too. And more needs to be done. The internet has changed how the whole world operates. From shopping to socialising, things are ‘online’ now in a way that they weren’t a generation ago.

I want to make sure Government faces up to the difficult challenges posed by the internet – to make sure that the digital age serves the public and our democracy, and not the other way round.

Any local parent who hasn’t yet taken part in my digital survey can still complete it online via my website www.edballs.co.uk. I promise to follow up with more answers to your questions in the coming weeks.

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Posted November 21st, 2014 by Ed