Parents don't take their children's online safety seriously enough, according to research carried out by retail PC World and Parents Online.
The study found that over 53 percent of those questioned said they weren't anxious about their child being contacted by strangers via internet chatrooms. While 40 percent said they weren't worried that their kids could be viewing unsuitable material online, 38 percent had put precautions in place to monitor their offspring's web activity.
This lack of concern is particularly disturbing in the light of the recent safety scare over 12-year-old Shevaun Pennington's rendezvous with her 31-year-old 'boyfriend' who she met over the Net. Such occurrences prove that the internet is a fertile hunting ground for paedophiles as children are much more susceptible to their tactics online.
A study by the University of Central Lancashire, showed that the children most likely to meet up with online acquaintances, were those least likely to understand the dangers involved. Of the 1,400 children surveyed, one in 10 of the 20 percent who regularly used chatrooms had met up with someone they had come into contact with online.
The government is acting to try to prevent adults from 'grooming' children online, proposing changes to the Sex Offenders Bill to make it a crime to befriend a child on the internet with the intention of abusing them. A second proposed civil order would prohibit adults from sexual conversations with children online.
But before such initiatives become law it is up to parents and carers to take responsibility for children's online safety, in much the same way as they would in the real world. There are plenty of packages available, or features provided by ISP's like AOL, BT Openworld and MSN to keep kids safe, so it's worth investing in one of these to lock down certain unsuitable sites and to track what kids are viewing and doing online.
PC World is now preloading all its own-brand Advent PCs, as well as the Packard Bell models it sells, with advice on safe surfing.
These rules of basic internet safety state that as well as installing some type of control software, parents should also:
Learn about the internet themselves
Keep the home computer in a room where everyone can see it
Tell children to be wary of strangers online, and never to give out personal information
Limit the amount of time spent online
Teach children not to open emails or attachments sent from people they don't know
Warn children never to meet up with anyone they have met online alone