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Internet security - when the worrying begins

By Gary Crossing

The internet sent its first tremor of trepidation through my family’s foundations about a month ago. My smiling, sweet, be-freckled seven-year-old boy pointed at the screen of his iPad and said “Dad, look what happens when you put ‘sexy woman dot com’ into Google.” I could see by his face that he didn’t fully comprehend the more graphic images that the search engine had helpfully displayed. He did realise however that it was naughty. We talked about how the images were inappropriate and he promised not to look at them again.

‘Sexy woman dot com’ was a phrase that he and his mates had been bandying about the playground for a week or two. They just thought it sounded funny. They didn’t know what it really meant. I thought, as is the way of the playground huddle, that they would forget it and move on to the next amusing expression, or go back to discussing Minecraft at great length. But now the digital cat is out of the bag. What to do?

Your child’s relationship with the web starts innocently enough. Colouring in pictures of The Octonauts with a virtual paintbrush while you get their dinner ready. Or playing the latest Mr Tumble game on your mobile while you’re waiting for a bus. Then before you know it, along flap Angry Birds and Minecraft and many more games and apps. And then comes YouTube! Even then, as long as my boys were watching endless boring videos of a man called Dan TDM (Dan Tedium I call him!) playing countless versions of Minecraft to his own inane commentary, there seemed to be very little to worry about.

My son and I started looking up things together on Google when he was doing his homework. Or when he wanted to look up some important Star Wars fact or other. But then came ‘sexy woman dot com’ and though it was a worrying development, I noted with some pride that his reading and writing were coming on a treat.

Coincidentally, a week or so later, there was a talk on internet safety at school. The presenters advised us how to plug almost every hole in the digital dam, how to set restrictions on your mobile, on broadband, on the internet and on YouTube. They gave us the URLs of other helpful websites.

Unnervingly though, the more they talked the more I started to worry. This thing was huge. And as my boys get older, the dangers they face will get more serious – cyberbullying, radicalisation, online grooming. I aim to do everything they advised. But I also cling to the fact that my boy told me about ‘Sexy Woman dot com.’ He didn’t keep it to himself. Hopefully he will continue to talk to me about these things. Because surely, as far as internet safety goes, one of the most important things is to keep the conversation going?

Image: reynermedia, CC BY 2.0