By Richard Haugh
Children and adults can 'educate each other about online safety'
A Suffolk charity is highlighting the threat to children using the internet.
Research by SAFEchild found that some children are meeting with new friends made via social networking sites, without anyone else being made aware.
The Eye-based charity is encouraging parents and children to educate each other of potential dangers.
"It's very easy for somebody who wants to be near children for the wrong reasons to create a false identity," said Safechild's Rosie Carter.
At the end of the 1990s, when Rosie Carter helped establish SAFEchild, both the internet and the resulting issue of e-safety were in their infancy.
Forward 10 years and the internet is an everpresent in children's lives. It acts as a vital research tool for education and an entertaining aside in terms of gaming and social network sites.
"The internet is such a powerful tool and it's wonderful in so many ways," said Rosie Carter, project director at SAFEchild.
"But it's like everything else, you have to use it very sensibly and think about the best practice when you access it."
According to SAFEchild, which is based at Thornham Field Centre, 98% of children can now access the internet away from school.
A scheme to provide free laptops to school-aged children has been taken up nationwide after a successful pilot in Suffolk and Oldham in 2008.
One of the biggest fears for children's safety comes from the use of social networking sites such as Bebo, Facebook and MySpace along with instant messaging services.
A key message from SAFEchild is that not everyone who uses these sites are who they claim to be.
"Children really don't realise who they're talking to because anyone can be anybody they want to be on the internet.
"If you don't see them face to face they can put photographs up of other people and pretend to be younger, older, male when they're female - identity is very hard to prove on the internet.
"What we're finding is that many children make friends on the internet and go on to meet them for real. What the scariest thing is that they actually don't tell anyone that they're going to meet someone for real.
"Out of our research with 200 young people aged 10 to 13 in the Ipswich area 20 of them had met a new internet friend for real without telling anybody.
"Ten of those new friends didn't look like what they thought they would look like - it's a very real issue.
"We tend to think that being a rural county we don't have the same issues as other areas.
"But new research by Doctor Tanya Byron on a national level matched what we'd found here. It's very, very similar - no more or no less."
Like SAFEchild Lorna Jackson, whose job it is to develop and deliver BECTA's e-safety strategy in the county, is working with schools to promote the safe use of the internet and other mobile technologies.
Talk to your children
Keep the computer in a family room
Explain risks of giving out personal details
Discuss how people can create a false identity
Think about what images/video is appropriate
Do your research - visit Think U Know, Becta and SAFEchild online
She raised the concern that the increase in wi-fi hotspots in cafes and fast food restaurants is presenting a new arena for bullying.
"Peer to peer bullying is only known to the victim. We're trying to make companies aware of the risk to children being able to access their services and to look out for a child who may appear distressed," said Lorna.
"Bullying is very easy online or by mobile phone because you're not actually face to face in the playground or on the school bus - it's very remote so bullying can be even more aggressive and vicious," added Rosie.
In terms of precautions, Lorna and Rosie agree that communication between children and their parents/guardians is the best way of ensuring a safe web experience.
"Be clued up and talk to children about information they could be disclosing and what pictures they can be uploading," said Lorna.
"Keep talking with them and find out what they can teach you."
"The first thing is to understand how the web works and find out how social network sites work," said Rosie.
"Try to keep the computer in a family-orientated area and don't let a young person use it in their bedroom or secretively.
"Make sure you know where they're going on the internet - get some IT advice if you don't know how to check the history on a computer.
"Be very aware of children who become secretive or don't let you know what they're doing online, keeping the door shut, not talking to you, using a webcam in their bedroom, accessing the web for long periods late at night, clearing their history so you can't track what they've been looking at, and especially children who may receive unexpected gifts or money from people you don't know as parents.
"There are lots of indicators and parents need to be more vigilant as to what young people are getting up to."
SAFEchild has been awarded money from the Henry Smith Grant Fund to deliver e-safety sessions in Suffolk.
website if you'd like to arrange a session for a group or school.
Use the links on the right for Becta, SAFEchild and Think U Know to find out more about keeping children safe on the internet.