Has there ever been a more frightening time to be a parent?

There’s no question, the advancements we see in technology every day are truly amazing and in most cases are enhancing our lives for the better. But with these developments come risks and that cannot be truer than when it comes to cyberbullying. I worry where this will be in a years to come when my children will be using social media independently.

A child’s privacy from their parents was once restricted to a ‘Keep Out’ sign on their bedroom door. But now this extends to their digital lives too where parents are mostly unaware of their online activity despite having unprecedented access to conversations with strangers anywhere in the world.

At school, eagle-eyed teachers could once spot bullying in the corner of the playground. But the invisible flow of messages between pupils via phones and social means that cyberbullying has become extremely difficult for teachers and parents to detect and monitor.

But technology is now catching up with the very problems it has created – to the relief of anybody responsible for a child’s safety and well-being.

To mark this year’s Stop Cyberbullying Day (Friday 17 June), anti-bullying charity Bullies Out has partnered with data analytics firm Online Them to raise awareness of the risks of cyberbullying and what parents can do to spot the warning signs in time. Online Them are offering parents a one month free trial too. 

Monitoring software such as Online Them enables parents and teachers to keep an eye on children’s online activities and highlight any causes for concern. Any monitoring of online activity tends to spark handwringing sermons about the right to privacy. But this is not another example of Big Brother clipping the wings of youngsters trying to explore the world and all the opportunities that brings. Nor does it give parents and teachers free reign to spy on children.

Tools using Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing can identify and highlight anything of concern or unusual to an individual child such as social media posts containing adult content, or mentions of crime, as well as flagging any new friends in countries outside the UK and a rank of who a child is interacting with most on social media. This is done on a consent-only basis, meaning a child has to agree to the use of software to monitor their high-level social media use. Consent can be given easily and quickly via an email invitation – all they have to do is click the attached link and authorize access to their Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. They can connect all three accounts or just one or two.

Monitoring tools present a great way to hold a child’s hand as they enter the world of social media. Parents and teachers can both use these tools to safeguard children in a low-maintenance and non-intrusive way.

Just like learning to walk or talk, taking the first steps online requires guidance to ensure that children understand what is, and what is not, appropriate to post online by either them or their friends. So, whether a child is on Facebook at home or tweeting at break-time, alerts provided by the monitoring software mean that teachers and parents can maintain their roles as guardians, while allowing children to have a space to talk to their friends without the fear of being spied on and to explore the world around them online.

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