Parents lack a safety net

They don't know what children are up to on mobiles and computers.

Andrew Mourant reports

Most parents in Wales have little idea of what their children get up to on the internet or with mobile phones, according to a new report by the children's charity NCH.

More than half the young people questioned reckoned they could remove parental controls and internet security software. And while almost 40 per cent use a blog (internet diary) at least twice a week, 71 per cent of parents do not know what one is.

The NCH report reveals a picture of technological apartheid, where many parents do not supervise their children when online and most know far less than their offspring about mobile phones.

Sara Reid, assistant children's commissioner for Wales, says parents can be lulled into a false sense of security by using software meant to stop young people accessing certain sites.

John Carr, NCH new technology adviser, says: "Children are pretty clued up when it comes to technology but often lack the worldly wisdom to steer away from its potential hazards. That's where parents come in."

The NCH has produced a family guide to mastering technology, Get I.T? Got I.T! Good!, available on its website or at Tesco, with whom it carried out the survey.

Meanwhile, the battle to outwit cyberspace sexual predators is being taken up by the new Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, a government initiative launched in April.

It is seeking helpers across the country with links to young people aged 16-plus. CEOP, the UK's first dedicated organisation focused on child sex abuse, is affiliated to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). It aims to link with all areas of domestic and international policing, as well as industry, specialist support and education. It offers direct support to victims and families and tracks and prosecutes offenders.

Now CEOP is offering free training and resources to volunteers in Wales who can support police liaison officers or make presentations in secondary schools. Training starts this month and continues until December.

The centre intends making an interactive presentation to all secondary children aged between 11-14, and subsequently to roll out the programme to primary schools. It wants children to share what they know about the net via its website, which includes games, details on new technology and blogging.

Dr Sangeet Bhullar, founder of Wise (Welsh Internet Safety Education) Kids, a Newport-based not-for-profit company promoting safe IT use among young people, says the CEOP initiative will play "a decisive role" in guarding juveniles from offenders.

The mother-of-three adds: "Our main work is training community groups and young people. At workshops, children ask where is the internet? Who owns it? Are there laws? How do you question online - just because something's on the net doesn't mean it's true."

Dr Bhullar has found children falling prey to expensive dial-up scams involving mobile phone services. And innocent mistakes can lead to embarrassment. A class of American children doing a project about government accidentally logged on to a porn site, instead of the White House.

"The biggest change I would like to see is for computer literacy to become a core part of the ICT curriculum rather than kids just doing PowerPoint,"

she said.

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