This isn't an issue that can just be fobbed off to professional bodies after the fact or left to the default settings on browsers and devices; the groundwork for keeping children safe online has to come from parents.
As parents, we would not let our children cross the road before had taught them how to cross safely. We need to do the same with the internet.
Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Bebo are notorious for attracting undesirable members of society. What we're dealing with are often invisible, anonymous threats that prey on the vulnerable.
Would you be happy for your child to leave the house and walk down the street wearing a sign detailing their full name, age, location, a list of their favourite hobbies and places they frequently visit? The fact of the matter is that so much of this information is innocently posted online and left open for the world to see.
An online predator posing as somebody much younger can use this information to create a bond with a child which may even lead to a meeting. Let's remember that anyone from age 13 can sign up to Facebook and there's no age restriction on Twitter at all. It's really essential that children lock down their profiles and restrict access, so only trusted people in their circles can see the information they want to share.
It's not just social networks either; there are chatrooms, websites and email exchanges which can be compromised. The risks certainly are not just limited to the threat of predators but bullies, blackmailers, racists and hackers as well.
Where possible keep the PC or laptop that children use in a family environment visible by parents instead of in a bedroom
Ask them what information they are currently sharing online and if they would share the same information with a stranger in the street as little pieces of information can easily be pieced together and build up a picture of their personal lives
Create a family email address for signing up to websites
Make sure that you know the steps needed to block websites and impose time restrictions on home computers as well as what age restrictions on games and websites mean
Inform your child that pictures they post online can be downloaded and manipulated without their permission and may be used against them for blackmail and bullying not just now but in the future
Let them know that predators can turn the situation around to make children feel guilty and scared of seeking help
Check what filter settings they have in place on their emails, websites and apps and if they use the same password for every account
Advise your child to only open web links, email attachments and files sent by people they trust and even then to be aware that these trusted people's accounts themselves may have been hacked and taken over. We teach children not to talk to strangers on the street, they should do the same on line
Stress that meeting people that they have only been in touch with online is extremely dangerous and they should never arrange to meet up without a trusted adult with them
Assure them that they can always talk to you or their teachers or anonymous helplines to discuss their concerns before the problem escalates
The bottom line is internet safety is a lesson just like anything else. There's only so much we as parents can teach. What is paramount is getting our children and young people to start asking questions and applying this knowledge on their own terms without being led astray. The main thing is for parents to be included.
To help our own customers and their families down this uncertain path, we are in the process of developing revolutionary parental control technology that can filter online browsing by device, by time and on a site-by-site basis based on the requirements of each individual family.
Problems like this need fresh ideas which is what The Broadband Shop is all about – our internet connection itself is delivered in a vastly different manner to the majority of the country and our upcoming parental filters will be similarly advanced to confront a thoroughly modern issue.