WITH thousands of children off school because of the coronavirus lockdown, parents all over Northern Ireland are no doubt grateful for having the internet to keep them occupied.
However, NSPCC Northern Ireland is urging parents and carers to be more vigilant than ever when their children are online and together with 02, the charity has created a resource called Net Aware which helps them to do just that.
Net Aware is a rich database of easily digested information on more than 50 apps, games and social networks from TikTok to YouTube, Roblox to Fortnite as well as the latest lockdown craze Houseparty.
It provides official age ratings, recommended ages according to parents and children, risk ratings covering everything from sexual grooming to bullying and perhaps most importantly expert tips on how to restrict the apps to make them safer.
Here is what Net Aware says about three popular apps:
Houseparty - The free video chat app allows people to talk to others one-to-one or in groups of up to eight with both friends and users you might not know. People can also play games whilst they are chatting. Its official age rating is 13-plus. Experts say it poses a high risk of sexual content and bullying and a medium risk of violence/hatred, suicide/self-harm and drink/drugs/crime. The website's main tip shows you how to turn on 'private mode'.
TikTok - Users can create, share and view 60-second videos. Its official age rating is 13-plus. Net Aware says it poses a high risk of drink/drugs/crime and a medium risk of sexual content, violence/hatred, bullying, and suicide/self-harm. The top tip is to switch accounts to private so only videos can only be shared with friends.
Roblox - The online game app lets users play and create games together with friends and others as well as provides the ability to chat to other players. Its official age rating is seven-plus while parents recommend it for children aged nine-and-over and youngsters themselves say it is best suited for those aged eight and above. The app ranks as high risk for violence/hatred and bullying, medium risk for sexual content and drink/drugs/crime and low risk for suicide/self harm. The primary tip is to explore the parental controls where chat privacy can be adjusted to block unwelcome and unfiltered chat.
There are also separate articles on the latest trends with recent releases covering Netflix parties and TikTok's new family safety mode.
Margaret Gallagher, Head of Local Campaigns at NSPCC Northern Ireland, said: "With the majority of children now off school and at home, they are likely to be spending more time online. The internet is so important – it’s an incredible learning tool and it also enables children to keep in touch with others at a time when they will be separated from friends or other members of their family.
"We also know how important it is to be aware of the risks the internet poses for young people – whether it’s grooming, viewing harmful content or bullying.
"At home it is now more important than ever for parents and carers to be having regular and open conversations with their children about what they’re doing online, and that they know they can come to you with any worries they may have.
"If parents are unsure how to approach this, or would like to access more information about online safety, the NSPCC and O2 Net Aware website is a great resource available. It helps you keep up to date on the latest social networks, apps and games children use, whilst providing information about setting up parental controls on devices."
Net Aware , a site co-created by the NSPCC and O2, can help parents and children understand how to minimise the potential risks and ensure that online resources can be an important, and safe, part of coping with the implications of social distancing.
Any adults with worries or concerns about a child’s welfare can call the NSPCC’s Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The NSPCC’s Childline website offers message boards where children can support each other. Alternatively, young people can share their worries with trained Childline counsellors by calling 0800 1111 or visiting the site