When I was about 12/13 years old, I started using the internet at home, my parents obviously knew a lot less than I did too, as neither of them had even turned a computer on until a few years ago. We didn't have anything in the house before then and in school we could only use Microsoft Encarta – brilliant fun! When we finally got broadband at home, I used to use sites like Yahoo! Chat and spoke to quite a few dodgy characters at the time, even a few paedophiles actually, although I didn't find out who they were until a few years later.
Internet safety, and reporting suspicious people online wasn't as well heard of back then so I didn't realise I could have reported them. The Government set up CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) to deal with this and is a great source of safety material and help for all age groups. Knowing what I know now about what goes on, It's very scary to think that kids could be in the same situation today that I was 10 years ago.
I worry about my nieces & nephew using the internet as people can be so deceiving. It's so easy for kids to chat to complete strangers over the internet these days. Does your child have a Wii, an Xbox or a Playstation? All of these have chat functions, where the kids can play games with anyone around the world. They can chat to each other in real time and now even speak over headsets. Teaming up to play games is not only fun but teaches kids how to work together as a group to win a task. So I get the attraction, but all parents need to take an interest when their kids are playing online and ensure they are only playing with their true friends that they know personally. They would not ask a stranger in the street to come into their house to play a game! so why would you let them on the internet?
That's why I love working for greatbritishkids.com so much, It's only week 3, but I’m really getting stuck in. My job role is Office Supervisor, so I get to do all the normal stuff, like dealing with the mail and making sure the office filing is all in order, but I also get to monitor the site. This is where I get to check that the content of the site is appropriate for our members. The other day a member uploaded a pop song for everybody to hear, but when I listened to it, it was uncensored, the dreaded F word was being used again in a pointless fashion, so I had to take the tune down and tell the member why. I know that this website is much safer than the others because I'm doing the "keeping safe".
Yesterday the website had a huge boom of activity from new users (a local school had gotten wind of us and had handed out leaflets to every kid.) I had a pop up message from a new member, Ben*, that had logged in for the first time. He said that he loved the website as it was just like facebook. He also wanted me to play games with him. Since new members can't contact anyone on the website until they're verified, he could only contact me, so I accepted the game and he beat me. I'm no good at pool in real life either.
I also had another new member contact me to ask if she could be instantly verified by webcam. Now this was my first time with a live member, as my training had been done just using other members of staff, so this was it, I cleared my throat, checked my hair was looking good (not much I could have done with it anyway, it's always fuzzy from the dreadlocks!) and I pressed the button to launch the webcam. My face popped up in a box, then the box expanded to show a black screen, nothing just black! So I sent Alice* a text chat message, asking if she had turned on her webcam, she replied "w8, am doin it now, i'm 10. Then as if by magic, her little face appeared on my screen! amazing! I said hi Alice, what's your date of birth? she told me and I wrote it down, then I asked her one more question and that was it! in under 20 seconds little 10 year old Alice had been checked to make sure she was under 18 and was a real kid. I had a flash back to when I was first using the internet and all the horrible experiences I had with paedos pretending to be other kids, I came over all warm and felt really good about myself, that by me checking Alice was Alice, I had made her safer and all of the other members on the site. I know that when Ben gets verified and wants to talk to Alice, that they will both know that they are kids and feel safer.
So that was it, My first webcam with a member! I changed her status from 'restricted ' to 'unrestricted' and hey presto Alice was able to use the whole site!
I'm just glad I'm playing my small part now by making sure kids have positive experiences with the internet where they can be themselves, be creative and make new friends.
Let me know if you like my blog, I'm getting back into this and want to continue writing about my experiences.
*I've made the names up to protect the identity of the innocents lol.