The online safety questions all parents need answered


By Lisa Salmon 

How can you shield your kids from dangers online if you don't know what they are yourself?

That's the question TV presenters, mums and best friends Nadia Sawalha and Kaye Adams asked themselves after discovering their own teen and tween daughters' locations could be shared when they are using the Snap Map feature on Snapchat.

The pair, both panellists on the ITV daytime show Loose Women, realised that if they hadn't known about Snap Map, there were plenty of other online dangers they weren't aware of too, and most other parents were
probably in the same position.

So they asked lots of questions about kids' online safety, got online security expert Will Geddes to answer them and give lots more online safety advice as well, and have published it all, together with their
own views of their children's 'virtual life' in their new online parenting book Parent Alert! How to keep your kids safe online   (DK, €15.99 approx.).

Sawalha says: "Before doing this book, the only reference point I had on this topic was my children... not necessarily the best idea as they could choose to keep me in the dark.

"Going into it was a scary prospect. We started it thinking we knew the problems and questions that needed to be asked - only to discover an entire host of further, much more frightening, questions needed to be asked and then answered."

Adams stresses: "It's a clear signal to parents that they are not powerless to protect their kids from the negative elements of the online world . You don't have to be a computer geek or 'young' to grasp some basic principles which will help you help your kids navigate the dangers. Our aim is to demystify and to inform.

"I would absolutely plead guilty to turning a blind eye through ignorance, and this book is our attempt to counter that."

And Sawalha adds: "If I'm honest, I have been wilfully neglectful of my children when it comes to their phone usage - it's suited me (and I believe it suits many parents) to just stick my fingers in my ears and hope for the best, not only because I don't understand it, but because it also suited me. In other words, benign neglect.

"While they were on their phones entertaining themselves, I could do whatever I wanted to (which invariably also involved my addiction with my own phone). This book goes some way to salving my guilt - and I hope
it will do the same for other parents."

But online safety expert Geddes reassures parents: "It's entirely understandable that for many parents it's been a serious challenge to keep up, and turning a blind eye is often perhaps both a gesture of resignation and defeat, as they believe it's a full-time job to even try and keep up.

"However, parents can't afford to do this, in the same way as they can't ignore who their children might be interacting with in their offline world. And in reality, it's not perhaps as overwhelming as they might

Here are 5 of the issues addressed in Parent Alert!

1. How can I cut my kids' screen time?

Try using the 30:60 minutes guide. Ideally, after 30 minutes on their device, your child should do something else, like going outside, doing chores, or having a face-to-face conversation, for 60 minutes. If they're playing a game online you may need to make the ratio 60:60. Either set an alarm, or use an app to put time limits on the device.

You can also enforce tech-free areas and no-tech times.  Turn on ' do not disturb' and make sure your child's phone isn't kept in their room as they sleep.

The vivid colour on devices can make them much more appealing for a child to look at, so - to limit their draw - turn on the grey scale by searching for device-specific instructions online. You can also block
some notifications.

2. How can I tell if an online conversation isn't what it seems?

Children don't tend to ask the same questions as adults - they want to know how to complete a game level, not the street you live on.

So if you discover someone has started a conversation with your child by asking their age, gender and location (often shortened to ASL), and if they follow this with other suspicious questions, it's unlikely your
child is talking to another child.

3. How do online predators tend to select grooming targets?

They may use chatrooms, forums and more marginal sites where comments aren't checked as heavily as they are on mainstream sites, or non-console based gaming networks, such as PC games with a chat
function, especially games featuring cartoon characters. They may also target kids using online shopping sites, especially ones where children can publish 'wish lists'.

4. How do I prevent my child making in-app purchases without my knowledge?

Even if your credit card details are on file, in most cases a game or service will need extra confirmation before a purchase - e.g. you can set the Apple ID to require a password or fingerprint for downloads or

5. How do I stop my daughter posting compromising selfies?

If she ignores advice not to send a compromising image, talk to her about concealing her identity by hiding her face and any identifying marks, plus any possible background identification. Even better, suggest
she sends a fake picture. All these measures could avoid future embarrassment.

Catherine Devane