Ofcom Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report 2013

I wanted to get a quick blog post out, in relation to the recent report, by Ofcom Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report (2013) and share some of the findings which stood out in this latest research .

For a start, some good news. I hear us parents say, can there be such a thing with all this fast moving technology and everything going on online? Updated research shows that ‘the number of children who own a mobile phone is going down, as youngsters reject basic handsets and increasingly turn to tablet computers to access the Internet’. Well, now that children are moving towards tablets, as opposed to mobiles, imagery and text on a tablet is much more visual than on a mobile so it’s a lot easier for parents to spot something untoward in what our children are viewing. Unlike smart phones, tablets can’t be hidden in pockets. They can however be hidden under beds and in coats. But they’re still more visible.

Another very interesting finding was that compared to last year 12-15s are much less likely to say they have a social media profile on any device (68%, down from 81%). Now I’m no statistics genius but as it’s highly unlikely that children are deleting their social networking profiles, this may be that many children now feel they are not able to freely admit that they have a social networking profile due to negative media attention on the use. This concerns me and says we need to find innovative and positive ways to safeguard children online, to replace the ‘safety talks’ currently employed.

The report also found that 18% of 12-15s say they know how to change online filters or controls. One in 4 parents (24%) of 5-15 year olds users are concerned about cyber bullying while one in 7 (14%) said they were concerned about their child cyber bullying somebody else.

Now anyone who has seen me speak on these topics or read any of my recent blogs will know my take on this. As a parent myself, I think we need to do and can do more to educate our young people on responsible and positive use of the internet, technology and social media - but it’s not all about the kids. As parents we need to become more aware of the changing landscape of technology and how we can help our children navigate through it more safely and use it to their advantage.

Many parents feel overwhelmed; they feel they can’t catch up with children’s technology skills. But there is a way forward. Our children can help us learn. Getting involved in their online life, using the tools -parental and safety software and setting boundaries is a good start. Let’s get started we can all make improvements in Cybersafety

Long Arm of the Law tightening on Acceptable Use

Social Media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, have for many businesses, organizations and public figures become the all important communications tool. Quick, free and with unimaginable reach.  However again recently, close to home in Northern Ireland, we’ve seen that comments which we post on social media platforms such as Facebook can and do come back to haunt us. And this time the posts are not from children and young people but in one particular instance a ‘mature’ adult, of nearly 3 score years, holding a position in public office.

Examples are being made at the moment and the Ruth Patterson episode will be one of many.  Just last Friday we saw DUP Councillor Ruth arrested in connection to an investigation into ‘the sending of grossly offensive communications and other serious criminal offences in relation to intimidation and encouraging criminal acts’.  As charges were reviewed by the Public Prosecutions Service, in relation to comments about a proposed fictional ‘massacre’ at a (real) Nationalist March (try to keep up), Ms Patterson accepted responsibility and apologised for posting her views in the public domain. Ms Patterson’s ‘lack of judgement’ (her own words) again demonstrates the need for consideration before posting at all times, particularly for those in public office.

The PSNI responded to the incident with a statement warning the public of the dangers of misuse ‘ When a report is made to the PSNI regarding information posted on social media sites, officers will investigate and where a criminal offence has occurred, appropriate action will be taken’. This seems clear enough. Maybe some of our public figures missed the memo.

This and other recent events have again reinforced the fact that it’s not just our children and young people who can be impulsive, immature, thoughtless etc online.  Sadly many adults, including those in positions of public office, are falling victim to the propensity to spew private views and thoughts into ill thought-out (if thought out at all..) public posts. Online they merrily go and into the public arena.  Cue, authorities.

Note to self. Not a place you really want to be. Some Online Reputation Management anyone? You know who to call.

Provocative public speaking is nothing new. Especially not here in ‘Norn’ Ireland where emotive speaking wins votes however in the digital age public figures twitter posts and facebook comments are scrutinised and even the most well thought out and carefully crafted posts can be found wanting by the public. The press is jammed with cases of individuals and companies getting into hot water over inappropriate or negative online use. Twitter itself was scrutinised and found wanting by the public, due to it’s less than sensitive handling of the journalist and feminist Caroline Criado-Perez rape and death threats case.  Perez’ tenacity has highlighted the torrent of abuse directed towards women online which previously had been tolerated. Arrests were made and the authorities reinforced the message that inappropriate and negative use can have serious repercussions to your reputation, employment, standing in the community and in extreme cases can lead to arrest, convictions and maybe even some jail time.

Police called on Twitter and Twitter called on Police. Ms Perez called on both.  Twitter to ‘get a grip’ and police to ‘step up’ in their dealing of these now frequent incidents.  End result – under intense media pressure, both are on high alert.

On a positive note, ‘Outing Your Troll’ is now the name of the game brave digital citizens are playing.  A recent example was the Mary Beard case where her young (20 student troll, Oliver Rawlings, was named and shamed as she retweeted his comments to her 42,000 followers. One follower kindly offered Mary the little lad’s mum’s home address in the wealthy gated-home area of Hale Greater Manchester. Oliver promptly apologised, left the country and is ‘recovering’ from the backlash on his parents yacht in Marbella. This unfortunately may not be an option in the fallout for most young mis-users.   But they can always dream.

Both Oliver Rawlings and Jack Riley, the young mechanic detained by police after subjecting Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy to rape and death threats were described as coming from ‘model’ families, and we are told that their comments were ‘totally out of character’.  Just normal young guys then, who happen to enjoy the sport of threatening female public figures with rape and violence. But to be fair, more likely, ‘normal’ young guys who thought they could get away with murder online.

Threats of sexual violence are increasing towards women in public office and even in towards those just expressing a strong opinion. But that’s another blog.

Examples are being made at the moment and will continue to be. 100’s of trolls were convicted last year.  According to the CPS over 1,700 cases were brought to court last year, although this represents only a tiny fraction of the abuse. You can look forward to 6 months in jail or a £5,000 fine under the Malicious Communications Act (1988) if convicted.

 Our friends McKinty and Wright Solicitors, Belfast, who keep us up to date on online legalities, point out that although prosecutions in NI will more usually be brought under s127 of the Communications Act 2003, the consequences are just as serious.  ‘A successful prosecution under this legislation will leave the individual with a criminal record and all that entails’ media lawyer Paul McDonnell tells us.  He cautions ‘In my experience, the PSNI is now much more vigilant in relation to policing potentially unlawful activity or exchanges on social media.  Members of the public are also increasingly prepared to explore the legal options available to them if social media posts stray into areas of defamation, harassment and breach of privacy.’ So there you have it, a disgruntled facebook ‘friend’ may now be seek legal representation, rather than slugging it out online.

Many digital citizens as well as the authorities are not willing to participate in or ignore the Free for All the Internet has become. Significant efforts by individuals, governments and organisations are being made to tame the ‘Wild West’ web and there will be casualties. So take care out there. Despite the cries of free speech, there’s little tolerance for abuse, ‘incitement’ and misuse at the moment online.  And who’s to say that’s a bad thing.  Isn’t it time more emphasis was placed on educating young people on positive online communication in our schools and communities.   And maybe a few of our public servants too.

Online Trolling and the effects on Young People

"Males aged 19 are the teens most likely to be affected by trolling or online bullying"


Now if you are someone over the age of 35 reading this blog, you are forgiven, just this once, for thinking a troll is some sort of mythical, cave-dwelling under the bridge sort of individual. Let me explain..when it comes to internet trolling, this is just not the case.  Although there may indeed be some mythical folk online, trolling is an activity which is increasing rapidly in us normal humans. And it’s just not cool. In fact online trolling has serious effects on young people, and here’s the thing -  recent research reports that 1 in 3 young people aged 14-18 received offensive online comments – and 1 in 10 have carried it (trolling) out.

The survey also found that 1 in 3 young people were the subject of trolling in the last six months – and 1 in 4 are affected by it regularly.

Now for me what’s most alarming is, that so many individuals are getting enjoyment out of causing pain and hurt to others in this way.  Alarmingly, also is that out of the 2,000 teenagers involved, it was found that the majority of offensive online comments by ‘trolls’ are in respect to the victim’s appearance (40%) or about their religion or race (16%) with Facebook being the most common platform for victims to be trolled.  And this behaviour is escalating! Come on facebookers, there’s just no need.

Now many people who use Social Networks such as Facebook & Twitter might be sick of hearing messages from me (if you hav’nt seen such messages, stop everything and follow me right nowJ. You are feeling sleepy….) in relation to lifestyle skills, tips and awareness on how to use social media platforms responsibly and to your advantage.  Encouraging young people not to troll and making them aware of the consequences of trolling is so important.

Many of those who carry out trolling do so because they think it’s funny.  It’s not. It’s thoughtless, cruel, harmful and can lead to some serious consequences such as depression, self-harm, or even force those who have experienced trolling to contemplate or attempt suicide leaving families and friends to live with the aftermath.

Now with cases of Internet trolling on the rise it’s important that young people know how to deal with an online troll, so I’ve come up with 3 Steps which you’re welcome to, to help keep you safer online.  Now my first one is a really important one.  I want you to remember it and spread the word. It could help  dramatically reduce some of the negative experiences your friends, family and any young people you tell, encounter online..

  • NEVER, EVER, forward on a video, comment or message attacking someone else. Don’t be tempted, no matter how ‘funny’ or ‘interesting’ you think it might be..for those of you out there with ‘quirky’ senses of humour and interests) Just to be clear, I use ‘attacking’ in both physical, verbal and hell basically any other/all contexts. Just to be clear. If you remember this, you’re halfway there already. Give yourself a Gold Star.
  • If you are trolled, Block the User. This should always be your first step.  If someone is sending you messages which you feel are hurtful, unkind or inappropriate then your best course of action is to block that user.  On my twitter account for example,  if I find a user who has followed me and I feel their messages are hurtful towards either myself or other users then I decide to not follow them back or block them.
  • Get familiar with how to Screen Print Stuff and make a folder to keep a record of inappropriate or hurtful messages. Keep details of the sender if possible.


Also never ‘Feed the Trolls’ which brings bystanding behaviour to a new level. This means winding someone up until they post trolling comments. It’s just not tennis.

Trolling is dangerous game, you have no clue who is going to join in. And that’s when it can get outta hand. You could create a monster. Be responsible. It’s not big and it’s not clever.

Lesson from Paris – Manage your online Reputation

On my drive home tonight from a radio interview where we were discussing how young people can manage their online reputation, it got me thinking that I must write up a blog post on some thoughts and tips.  They might just help prevent some young people from making some very big mistakes when it comes to things they say online, comments they post or images they share.  I’m thinking of Paris Brown, the Teenage Youth Police Commissioner who was forced to quit over ‘offensive’ tweets she made when she was only 14.  I always tell young people I speak to, things can have a habit of coming back to haunt us.  Hindsight is a great thing.

Now my first bit of advice or ‘words of wisdom’ might come be a bit of shock to some people reading this blog.  Ok so here it comes, are you ready?

If you’re going to post something online be sure you’re confortable with putting it up on a massive Billboard – yup that’s right a massive Billboard in every town and city across the world.  When it comes to the Internet I see it as ‘World of Mouth’ because a single tweet or Facebook post has the potential to reach every corner of the world in a matter of seconds. Remember - What you post online becomes public information and is searchable.  This is no exaggeration.

But.. I hear you say, Wayne I would never post anything, which would offend anyone, not even in the slightest.. But here’s the thing. A recent research report Teens, Social Media & Privacy 2013 found that ‘59% of teens have deleted or edited something which they posted in the past’. Another study carried out in 2012 into the online behaviour of 2,000 Over 18s found ‘a third wish they had kept photographs or personal or biographical details to themselves’

So tell us , how can future superstars of the world protect and keep our online reputation in tiptop shape, - well there are a few bits of advice, which might just help you out ;

1: Keep your Personal Information Private  - When it comes to keeping stuff private on social networks it’s harder than you think.  And you would be right in thinking you might need a PHD with platforms such as Facebook changing the rules about how you can protect yourself and your content.  That being said there is no excuse for doing nothing about your privacy settings.  Pay attention to the content, which you upload to social, network sites and adjust the privacy settings accordingly to suit who you want to be able to view and potentially share It on.  Keep an eye out for images which others post of you that you might be unhappy with or embarrassed about and remove the tag which identifies you in it.

2: Search Yourself  - I do this a couple of times a month. Not in a needy way or to stroke my ego (I’ve a big ego) just kidding.  But to see what information major search engines such as Google return on  - it can be as simple as typing your name into the engine and see what results come back, remember also to do an image search.  A worthwhile way to keep an eye on new content, which is added, is to set up a Google Alert on your name, which will mail you a notification, once anything is added.

3: The Internet is like an elephant. It never forgets..  You might remember I highlighted at the start of this blog about the Youth Police Commissioner posting some unfavourable tweets when she was just 14 years old. As you know those comments came back to haunt her when she was 17, just around the time she landed a £15,000 a year job which could have opened doors for her around the world!. Bummer right?  Well the thing is, the Internet is like a library.   It catalogues everything we post online into an archive and it only takes someone to carry out some basic key word searches with your name, voila up comes information on you.  So keep this in mind as it’s now common for your future employer or a recruiter to just check out your online reputation before deciding to hire you or not.  Could mean the difference between the job of a lifetime or stacking shelves. Not that there’s anything wrong with stacking shelves. If you like shelf stacking.

It’s easy in a digital world to shoot yourself in the foot online and not manage your online reputation, and the repercussions can be brutal. On the positive side though, it’s all down to you. You’re in control. In this world reputation counts for a lot, is difficult to build and easy to lose so look after it like your most prized possession. Which is probably your iphone. Look after it like your iphone.

Don’t have time to check your Child Online?

"Online child abusers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their forensic awareness to cover tracks" The Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) Environmental Scan 2012 - Online Child Safety

But I hear you say…can my child be exposed to these sorts of abusers?  Well if you leave your child unsupervised they can become a target.  Many children are already engaging in risky online behaviour with most parents having no idea what their kids are really doing online or when using smartphones, tablets or PCs. 

Here’s the thing. I speak to parents all the time about Online Safety and keeping children safer online and you know what? When it comes to technology it’s like a no go area - a somewhat glazed expression comes over their faces.  As I see it, there is a big, no let me try that again  - there is a MASSIVE disconnect between what Parents think their children are doing online and their actual online behaviour. 

A study carried out by McAfee, which examines the online habits of preteens, teenagers and young adults found that 54% of the parents surveyed said that they just didn’t have the time to check up on their children’s online behaviour.. 

Now I for one, am not being judgemental, but as a parent myself, I feel we need to make the time. If we are going to allow our Children to freely use the Internet then we need to start understanding that the Internet is a place where children go.  And as children they need to be educated to what is appropriate online and what’s not.  As parents we also need to take the opportunity to learn more about what children are doing online and the dangers so we can watch for the signs and keep them safer. 

Children are engaging in a whole host of different activities online – there are cases where they can and will get into danger.  Did you know that as far back as 2010, 12% of all websites on the Internet were pornographic. What’s even more scary is that in this same year 1 in 7 ‘youths’ reported being solicited for sex online.  Now that’s in 2010 - think of where the figures sit now. 

In the opening of this blog post I mentioned briefly The Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) Environmental Scan 2012 who are drawing attention to some very concerning developments which parents need to be aware of such as ‘Online child sexual exploitation is fuelled by compulsive internet usage among offenders and online networks of such people’ and that  ’Offenders are paying as much as €900 for new child abuse imagery’. 

I’m asking all parents who come across this blog to start thinking about this right now. This issue is growing rapidly and is not going away. As parents we can take simple steps in implement safety barriers in our home technology.  Contact your childs’ school, ask the Principal to run a Parent’s Information Evening which will allow you to get to grips with how safety settings work on the major social network platforms, identify the warning signs and teach your child positive and appropriate online lifestyle skills to minimise their vulnerability to danger. 

It’s not Rocket Science.  Together we can help make a difference towards Online Child Safety.

Resilient Children Less Likely to Be CyberBullied

‘Across all risks and with all children talking to someone was the most popular coping strategy’ EU Kids Online (2012) on CyberBullying and negative online experiences.   Research has found that building resilience in children and young people is vital in the battle against cyberbullying. Children need to be taught coping strategies early in a world immersed in digital.  Parents online confidence was also found to be a factor in reducing cyberbullying as the lines of communication were more open and understood when discussing online topics.   As our children become more exposed to technology as a growing part of their daily lives, they are somewhat comfortably numb in this environment and the way in which they are exposed to imagery and behaviour they may not experience so early in the offline world.  It is important as Parents and caregivers of young people that we help build their resilience in the online environment.   It’s common knowledge that while exploring the Internet is wonderful and exciting, there is a dark side with issues surrounding CyberBullying, Trolling, Sexting and other harmful behaviour which takes place online.  Building resilience in children and young people strengthens their ability to cope, adjust or recover from negative online experiences including bullying. It can also help them deal more positively and confidently with peer pressure and negative online experiences.   Being resilient gives the young person the ability to bounce back from negative postings or comments, is less likely to display bystanding behaviour and may help the young person become less vulnerable to sexual predators and sexual peer pressure.   As Parents, educators and community leaders we want to encourage our children to be confident within, so that if they experience bullying either online or off or have negative experiences they can keep safe, the experience will have less  impact on them and they are able to cope, recover and deal with the problem without lasting or devastating consequences, such as cyber related psychological problems, suicide and self harm.   So just how can we make our children more resilient when it comes to using technology or things they may come across or see online – here is few areas we can start with:    

  • Being Empathetic to the world our young people live in - This is an important area when it comes to the gap between us as Parents and other care-giving adults when dealing with our  children’s use and grasp of technology, especially that of Social Media and networking.  If as a Parent you find yourself involved in a issue with your child and something which has taken place or happened online it is especially important that you put yourself in the shoes of that child and attempt to see the online world as they do.  Empathy does not imply that you agree with the situation but rather you attempt to appreciate the young persons point of view.
  • Communicating effectively and listening actively  - It’s nothing new that many young people see communication with parents and adults in general as a one-way system.  I myself am guilty as charged when it comes to how I sometimes communicate to my two young sons.  It can and often does tend to be one way.  In order to get a better handle and truly understand the online world of a young person we want to encourage them to share and speak of their experiences using technology and the Internet.  As adults it is important for us to actively listen to understand what it is they are trying to say and respond in a way which will help empower them.
  • Develop responsibility in online behaviour  - I was always brought up to help around the house and as Parents we try to reinforce responsibility in Children simply by giving them jobs to do around the house.  Children from a very early age like to help others. Encourage this helping approach and kindness in relation to Internet use, especially from an early age where children can make a positive difference within their online world & communities  - if they see something taking place they are confident to act, seek support for themselves and peers and avoid bystanding behaviour.
  • Actively encourage children and young peoples time away from technology. Breathe in some fresh air.

  As technology and the Internet becomes more connected within our everyday lives and how children and young people learn and communicate with each other there are a number of areas which can be improved both at home and within schools in making children more resilient. These are not just limited to young people but also focus on the responsibility of adults.  Within schools and the home it is important that we encourage open communication.  It is also important that we continue to promote Internet access, use and awareness among adults so that parents and other adults can themselves narrow the gap and feel confident in guiding their children towards responsible use of the Internet .   Finally it is paramount that we strive to promote a confident and positive attitude towards being safer online and proactive coping strategies among children’s peer groups.  Parents who are confident online users communicating openly with their children who are supported and resilient to pressures and threats in the online as well as the offline world.