We all know how much social media has changed in these last few years. Social media, apps, and the web now at such reach, it is getting harder to monitor and enforce what children can and can’t do online. It is no longer limited to the family PC which makes it so much more difficult to supervise and monitor the internet usage.
There is no age filter to the content that has started to be put up, so your children could be exposed to something that could have lifelong consequences as the internet has a huge influence on children and young people. We don’t want to say that the internet is entirely a negative influence for children. Mostly the influence is positive, as it provides an essential tool for learning, a platform to build relationships and helping them find their place in the world.
However, you need to monitor your kids very closely to what they are watching and being exposed to as this has both a direct and indirect effect on every aspect of their life. You need to think of what happens if their experience is less positive and how you as a foster carer could protect them from that dark side of the web.
As a foster carer, dealing with a child’s vulnerabilities in the online world is now as vital as it is in the real one. Used properly and with adult supervision, the internet can be a great resource for young people. But like any form of communication, it also has its risks, and caregivers need to understand them to protect vulnerable young people from the dangers of the online world.
While no child is invulnerable to the dangers of the online world, those in care may be at an increased risk from improper internet use.
As a foster carer, you need to be equipped to deal with the added dangers of a child accessing the internet privately on a smartphone or tablet and try to supervise their interactions online to keep them safe from potential harm.
Risks children could face online and the affect this could have on the child if things go wrong:
- Online grooming, this is when an anonymous adult gets into dialogue with a child, which starts with befriending them using a friendly and approachable persona to befriend them. They then encourage that very child to share explicit images or in some cases arrange for a meet up face to face.
- Cyberbullying which often starts as a joke which then leads into a targeted campaign of abuse, threats, and inappropriate images often across different social media platforms. If you suspect a child in your care could be a perpetrator of cyberbullying, it’s always best to monitor and tackle the issue early to prevent more serious consequences.
- Over-sharing of personal information and sexting, which involves the child sending out sexually explicit content. This could lead to more dangerous things if the photos or content is circulated around social media platforms, which could lead to cyberbullying and blackmailing.
Foster children may be at risk from the following:
- Unregulated contact from birth parents or relatives – Once in care, children may have limited, regulated or no contact with their birth parents or relatives, as part of their care plan. Remember – if contact isn’t allowed in the real world, the same applies online.
- Bullying – Sadly, children in care are often seen as ‘different’ among their peers, and this may place them at an added risk of both physical and cyberbullying. Monitor the online interactions of children in your care to safeguard against malicious content and abusive messages.
- Security and safety – As a foster carer, you’re responsible for the child’s safety and security both in the real world and online, so taking an active approach to supervising their internet use is a good step to avoiding any potential protection issues. Set an example in online security by checking your privacy settings and equip yourself with the knowledge to safeguard children’s online interactions.
As a foster carer, understanding and recognising the signs of fear, distress and anxiety are vital in building a positive and fulfilling relationship.
Potential impact of improper internet use, and how this could affect children:
- Upset or anxious about something they’ve seen online – Whether it’s a violent video or sexually explicit images, children can be hugely affected by online content, so implement adult controls where necessary.
- Fear of missing out – Constantly checking social media feeds can lead to a form of internet addiction, whereby young people feel they’re missing out by not interacting with peers online. This can affect many aspects of their life, from their mood to their education.
- Peer pressure – Whether directly or indirectly, peer pressure is a significant side effect of improper internet use. Many young people feel pressured into sharing content online they perhaps wouldn’t without the compulsion to do so from friends.
- Developing unrealistic ideals about body image – From beauty tutorials on YouTube to celebrity social media accounts, the internet is awash with images and content that set unrealistic standards in how people should look, dress or act. Young people are particularly influenced by this, and it could lead to them developing negative ideals about body image.
- Creating a negative online reputation – Once something has been uploaded and shared online, it can be difficult to undo and remove. If young people share inappropriate content online, the consequences could stay with them for a long time, potentially affecting future relationships and their chances of getting a job.
Practical steps you can take to ensure children in your care can only access appropriate material:
- Sit down with the child and ask about the apps they use and the websites they visit frequently. This needn’t be serious, simply ask what they like about them and whether they can show you around the interface. Then, involve them in the process of establishing privacy controls, and chat with them about why it’s necessary. This will limit their resentment and hopefully give them an insight into safer internet use.
- Ask to check the privacy controls on their social media accounts, without prying into messages and comments. Help set up privacy controls so that only approved friends can talk and interact with them. Again, involve them in this to reinforce the message of online safety.
- Check if any of the apps they’re using, or the device itself, has ‘geo-location’ enabled, which could be sharing their location with strangers unintentionally when using certain apps or software. You can usually control which apps have access to location services in the phone’s settings.
- Show them how to report offensive comments and block people on their favourite social platforms. Not only will this help them to stay safer online, but it will reinforce the idea that you trust them to make their own decisions when it comes to the internet.
- Some apps let people tag others in images and comments, which raises the problem of children being unwittingly tagged in offensive online content. Check these tagging settings in their social accounts, and make sure they can’t be identified by others after being tagged.
- Encourage children in your care to talk to you about their phone’s security and privacy settings. No parent or guardian wants to feel like ‘Big Brother’, spying on a child, as this can create a barrier of distrust, so always be open, honest and flexible about privacy and content controls.
- Keep apps and devices up to date. If the manufacturer offers an update, you should make sure these are installed as soon as possible, as they may include better security provision or offer enhanced protection against malware.