Matt Hancock talks about internet safety

Digital Parenting asks the Minister of State for Digital, Matt Hancock, about government plans for keeping our children safe online 

If you could do one thing tomorrow to improve the online lives of UK children, what would it be?

Simply being aware of the dangers will make the most difference. Yes, the online world contains many hidden risks, but there are also dangers in the offline world and we don’t address those by severely limiting children’s freedom – we give our young people the necessary guidance and allow them room to explore. That’s how we should approach online risks, too. The internet is full of fantastic opportunities for children to learn and grow and we’d hate for them to miss out. It’s all about making sure children feel confident and safe online, but still have the freedom to develop. For that reason, the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) set up a working group, at the government’s request, to look at the effectiveness of family-friendly filters – and, in particular, to make sure they are not inadvertently filtering out content that actually helps our young people, such as providing important advice on topics like suicide prevention and bullying.

How can schools help to build children’s digital resilience?

Schools already offer strong support to parents and children alike, but we are encouraging a number of new initiatives that will help. Parent Info, for example, an initiative delivered by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) and Parent Zone, regularly collates the latest expert information, which can then be uploaded for free onto schools’ websites. We have put e-safety front and centre in the computing curriculum, to make sure our young people are digitally savvy and can stay safe both at home and elsewhere.

What is the government doing to help families adapt to raising children in a digital world?

We have already shown our commitment to keeping children safe online by introducing the most robust internet child-protection measures of any country in the world. We have ended the easy availability of adult content by giving parents control of what their children can access through family-friendly filters, and by making it a legal requirement for those delivering adult content to ensure it is safely behind an age verification control.

Ask nicely

Young people will soon need their  parents’ permission to join social media sites

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in 2018. The legislation stipulates that anyone under 16 will need parental consent before signing up to online services, including social media. EU member states can set the limit at a lower age, as long as it’s not below 13, and the UK government is considering what age this should be.

“The UK is world-leading when it comes to child internet safety,” says Matt Hancock. “I am not aware of any other country that has introduced family-friendly filters at network level as we have, that has legislated to introduce age verification to protect children from accessing pornographic material, or that works so closely with industry to deliver effective solutions. The GDPR is a great step towards making the UK the safest place in the world to go online.”

Opening up the world

Children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) or physical disabilities are benefitting from the growing range of devices and software

School days can be particularly tough for those with mental or physical challenges. But technology is making a difference, helping young people get on with everyday tasks, or simply enjoy themselves, without being singled out as being different.

Learning about life online

Four-year-old Soleil from West London is autistic. His father Dexter told us, “Soleil absolutely loves technology. He goes online for entertainment, but he also uses it to find things out and to regulate himself.

“While he loves watching cartoons, other videos can help him understand and become comfortable with a tricky experience he’s had in the offline world.

“For example, he once had a fire-drill at nursery, which he hated due to the loud noises. Once he got home, he went online and watched videos of fire alarms for weeks on end. He uses technology to make sense of experiences that have made him scared or uncomfortable.”

A helping hand

The development of assistive technology (AT), has helped children who would otherwise struggle to keep up with their peers and maintain their independence, which in turn increases their self-confidence and keeps them motivated.

“Technology has become an essential teaching tool in the classroom,” says Laurel Fleck, a deputy head teacher from north London. “It can improve concentration and engagement for a whole class, a small group or individual teaching. It can be used effectively to assist children who need extra help, such as touch-typing apps for children with dyslexia.”

As technology develops, the world of learning looks set to open up for a generation previously denied the chance to pursue their dreams.

For more information and advice

• British Assistive Technology Association

• SENDirect

• The National Autistic Society

Accessibility services for your child from Vodafone

We want everyone to be able to use mobile technology. If your child has accessibility requirements, we provide a range of services that can help:

Next Generation Text Relay translates voice to text and text to voice

SMS emergency calls allows you to text 999 in an emergency

195 free directory enquiries for the blind or partially sighted

Dedicated call-centre team a specialised team offering help and support

Specialist handsets designed to help with a child’s specific needs

SignVideo gives British Sign Language (BSL) users free access to an online interpreter if you need to contact us

Third party bill management

Bills in large print and Braille

For more information about the accessibility services available, see where you’ll find videos and advice, as well as a webchat link to our advisors. Alternatively, you can call our specialist team on 0333 304 3222.

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