August 7, 2008

Parents Forced to Spy on ‘Net Risk-Takers

By Gerry Holt

WELSH children as young as eight are logging on to social network sites such as Facebook, forcing concerned parents to go online to spy on them.

Thousands of youngsters claim to be using the popular sites, despite the minimum age for registration on most being 13.

Nearly two thirds (60%) of children admit to posting online such personal information as their mobile phone numbers, addresses and where they go to school.

And fears over young social networkers have prompted two thirds (66%) of parents in Wales to take matters into their own hands by secretly logging on to their children's networking page to snoop on them.

An astonishing 34%have even gone as far as setting up their own social networking page to spy on their children, according to research out today from online identity experts Garlik.

Last night there were calls for the three biggest sites - Bebo, MySpace and Facebook - to take their age restriction policies more seriously.

But online experts say it is too easy for children to lie about their age on the internet, and have urged parents and teachers to educate their children about the dangers of using the internet for social networking.

Haydn Blackey, a social networking website expert from the University of Glamorgan said it was key that parents monitored their children's activities online, just as they would do in any day-to- day activity.

"You can't ban social networking sites sow hat you have to do is give children the skills they need to be able to use them safely," he said.

"Just as an eight-year-old walks from home to school and you tell them not to talk to strangers - you do the same online. That's part of what we've always done for our children - the risks have always been there. These online risks can be managed in the same way."

He said he was not concerned about parents going online to snoop on their children's sites.

"If they were going to out to a party or on a night out then you would check on them so what's wrong with checking where they are online?" he said.

Garlik chief executive, Tom Ilube, said: "That parents feel compelled to monitor their children on this scale should send a powerful message to the big social networking sites.

"With three quarters of a million underage users in the UK, Facebook, MySpace and Bebo need to take their own age restriction policies far more seriously to help allay parents' real fears."

The minimum age for Facebook and Bebo is 13, while for MySpace it is 14.

British youngsters spend on average an hour a day on social network sites, with many openly admitting to reckless behaviour online.

A quarter (23%) of eight to 15-year-olds in Wales admit they have strangers as"friends" on their social networking page, andnearly a fifth (18%) have met up with people they have only ever known online.

But 70% of Welsh parents say they are more vigilant now over monitoring their children's use of social networking sites than they were a year ago and 93% speak to their children about the dangers of the pastime.

Father-of-two Mike Jones, 44, from Cardiff, who helps to run computer clubs for primary schoolchildren, said it was far better to work with youngsters than against them.

"Trust is the integral part of any relationship and breaching it to spy on your child would only encourage them to find out ways around."

Facebook, MySpace and Bebo yesterday declined to comment on the research.

Safety tips for parents:

Know what your children are doing online.

Get them to show you how to do things online.

Help them understand not to give any personal information, such as mobile number, address or which school they go to, to online friends.

Teach them that some people lie online.

Tell them to keep online friends online.

Make sure they know friends before accepting them as friends on social networking sites.

Keep talking so they know they can always tell you if something makes them feel uncomfortable.

Show children how to block people online and how to report them.

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