Byron Report Review – Children and the Internet

I was introduced to this report today by someone on a forum I have started to read, however I had heard of it previously. I decided I would read this report although somewhat loosely to see what the report had to say, and I’ve decided it’s worthy of a blog to discuss its points. For anyone who wants to read the report I’m talking about, it can be found at http://www.dfes.gov.uk/byronreview/pdfs/Final%20Report%20Bookmarked.pdf

Let’s start by reminding myself that I have two children and in all honesty, only being aged 21 at the time of writing, I am only just outside of the scope of the report, so this report does actually affect my interested in technology and it’s affects on children of today.

The full report was 226 pages long, so needless to say, I didn’t read the document page by page, but I did read the best part of the important sections of the document. I personally can see why the report was published and why people should read it, however I think a lot of the issues covered by the document are a matter of lack of parent understanding of what technology is offering these days.

Child Safety – Web Browsing 

The internet itself is undergoing change over the last two years with the advent o so called Web 2.0 products available such as Facebook to name one example. In plain english, Web 2.0 basically means web sites which are made up of content submitted by users of the site and not the owners of the site themselves. This process gives people a more personal we experience by allowing them to add content to things themselves. Even this blog you are reading is Web 2.0!!

For me, Section 3 of the document was of most interest. This section covers children, and protecting them on the internet. To me childrens usage of the internet and their safetyshould be of concern to parents, and isn’t something which parents should just lie down, accept your kids do and let them get on with it, however there are boundaries much the same with real life. Understep the mark and yor kids control you and overstep the mark and your kids will rebel against you failing to listen to your advice.

The report claims that children aged 7-11 are starting to discover the net and are using it mainly for fun purposes however I would completely disagree with this. Kids in homes with computers are starting to use the internet at a younger age than this, possibly as low as 4 or 5: Yes, at this age they are simply using one or two websites which have been shown to them by the parents, but that is not the point. 12-16 year olds are claimed as using the internet for mainly research purposes for school projects however I again disagree. I believe kids of this age are using the internet for mainly social networking, conversing using MSN or such and with sexual education taking place in school at about age 12-13 I believe some kids of the more curious nature may start to look at sexual material on the internet – Not with pornographic intent but exploration, however it some children, this exploration could turn into something more sinister later in life if it continues.

Children aged 17+ are reported as falling off in their use of social networking sites, and are primarily using the internet for work. The primarily using the internet for researh and work related purposes I will agree, however the decline of social networking site I do not agree with being that adults or post-teens are the most active users of blogs, wiki’s and more mature forums and social network sites. Things like MySpace and Bebo may go out of the window at this age and be replaced by sites like Facebook. Kids who where previously members of Facebook anyway may around this age decide to delete their profiles and start fresh accounts to detatch themselves from immature references on their profiles with concerns over work etc although this is not as important as it should be.

The problem with the younger age brackets in this survey is that they at that age do not have the understanding of the internet to a level which allows them to be secure and careful in their activities, and even if they did they would probably ignore the advice and continue how they felt they wanted to, which is why at this age the children need to be more protected with the use of technologies available to parents to protect the children, whilst as the children age, these restricts should be levvied to give the children more freedom, whilst ensuring that the understanding of personal protection is maintained as if the tighter restrictions are retained the children will likely rebel against the system and try to use subversive methods to avoid them like online proxy servers.

The report states that the parents throguhout the ages show anxiety towards the internet and its us in certain areas by their children, however this absolutly need not be the case. I feel that this is the case because the parents themselves don;t understand the nature of the beast they are dealing with. For example a child may register on Facebook and begin acruing friends and using the site, however if the parent is obvlivious as to how Facebook works or how to use it themselves how are they supposed to support their children in its safe use? This point is explained perfectly in one of the quotes in the document:

[blockquote]“I wouldn’t listen to my parents anyway, as they don’t know enough.â€?[/blockquote]

One point I will agree on at this stage is the effects of older brothers or sisters on the internet usage of younger kids: This goes all the way back through the evolution of kids from 1 year olds to the simple fact that if a kids sees one kid doing something the next kid wants to want to do it too. This is the reason it is important for parents to introduce safety online to kids from the offset, that way you have a chance that the older kid will explain and show the younger one how to do it safely with less envolvement from you.

One item that is of a growing concern is the extend of online advertising and the way the type of advertising is expanding into the internet. Porn and Warez type advertising is leaking out of these types of sites into normal browsing sites where the owners of the sites are stupid enough not to sufficiently monitor who they are allowing to advertise this them. The more worrying issue is the content within the advertising. I read a seperate article recently concerning adverts that are being unchecked which are including ActiveX controls which would unwittingly deploy trojans etc to the target machine. Whilst controls can be put into place to block advertising and ActiveX controls that are not signed to run, I’m sure that a very small percentage of people even know that the sort of equipment they already have in their home can help the with this.

Cyber-bulling is a subject which annoys me so this portion of the document is ut a dull portion to me. To me, the possibility of cyber-bulling to occur is almost non-existant. Internet browsers have close buttons as do instant messaging conversation windows. Email messages can be deleted. If you think a site is going to say something nasty about you on it, down read it and then whine about it. If you think someone is going to be horrible to you on a social networking site, then don’t accept their friend request and the same goes for instant messaging. If someone turns on you, press the button that blocks them. If someone sends you an email hich you don’t like, then delete it and add the person to the block senders list. I’m sure that people make such a big deal about cyber-bullying because the people it affects don’t understand how to use the functions of the products correctly to prevent it and it’s for that reason I don’t accept it. People who are affected by it only really have themselves to blame for being friend-a-holics and accepting blanket everything they get sent. People who are bullied in real life on the other hand I have real sympathy for because the educational system of today and all days doesn’t have the suitable capabilities for helping those affected such as integration and links into the police networks, and even when there is support from the police they have very little powers to impact bullying.

One issue that the report doesn’t touch on if employability – If that is a word or not, I don’t care because I’m going to use it. People on sites like Facebook will join any group they like the look of, but are they considering the long term implications? Employers are starting to use the internet to pre-profile applicants before they even get to interview. To this end kids in the higher band ages 17+ need to consider before the join the groups what impact this could have on them. If employers find something they don’t like about you through Facebook, Google or wherever then they not even get you to the interview stage – Food for thought.

The report speaks of the Government having involvement in blocking access to content which is unsuitable however I think this solution is a non-starter due to the size of the internet and furthermore, this is a solution China has taken and does anyone like the way that’s turned out? Reports state that access to the BBC News site has only just been opened up!

Conclusion

My conclusion to this section of the review is very simple – Parents need to do more to understand what there kids are doing online and be able to understand it themselves, and at the same time, they need to ensure that they understand the safety measures provided by these sites and try to explain to their kids how to use them. Parents also need to learn how to use the functionaility of hardware within their homes that they already have correctly. For example, most wireless ADSL/Cable routers havea somewhat limited ability to block websites and portions of websites using keywords. Parents should look to using these features to help protect not only their kids, but their entire home networks.

Child Safety – Online Gaming

The report goes into detail about kids playing online games and getting too envolved in them. I personally think that playing online games is not the issue but the way they are concieved. Violence in games and the effect games have on real life seem to be a hot topic in the world at the moment also, but I fail to see this myself.

The report also states that older siblings will have concerns with parents about younger children playing age restricted games. This is just not the case. Older siblings are concerned abotu younger kids playing the games because they don’t want to have the console or computer taken away from them not because they are concerned. I personally don’t see a real issue with younger kids playing games that aren’t suitable for their age, because they are onlyt going to go and play them at their friends houses instead. People complain of the violence in games and how this affects kids, but this is just not true. GTA is a perfect gaming example: It’s got an 18 rating because it’s so violent – What violence – There is more violence on the streets of London to date. I hardly see some virtual dude running around with a little AK or the likes to be contributing to violent acts in the world. How can someone say this affects real-life? Yes, I will just walk into the nearest gun store, buy a rocket launcher and start opening fire upon passing cars. To speak of another title; Manhunt – I see it now – The link! Because people are all over the place running around with chainsaws trying to saw off the front off peoples faces.

Then there is other issues, like the story of a kid in China who after playing World of Warcraft thought he could fly. Now, whilst this is a sad story of a kid taking their own life, but I just want to point out that at the time of the event there was no such thing as flying in WoW so how they worked out that this was because of WoW I don’t know – That’s the media for you!

I think the same issue applies to gaming also though – Parents don’t understand well enough the play that is taking place so don’t know fully what the kids are doing – If parents where to do simple things like Google the title of the game and read a review they could help themselves by at least understanding just a little.

Yes, MMORPG’s take more time to play as they are more involved experiences however the media seem to forget that these games offer profanity filters which can be enabledto hash out swearing or other bad language. Players can also block players they don’t want to speak to. The norm in these gaming enivroments is that someone is playing the game with them sometimes referred to as a duo, so you would hope that these two would stand for each other. As a WoW player myself, there are moments where you do feel like you are being victimised by gankers, however anyone who takes this to heart needs to take a reality check, because some people in the game are just like this – They have no lives and need to procure one from somewhere – These people are normally older players who don’t have anything better to do either.

I’m not going to talk in any more detail about online and MMORPG gaming because I think there isn’t as much to this topic as the browsing topic.

Conclusion

Online gaming is not an issue, so people need to stop complaining about it.

Overall Conclusion

The internet is not a safe place – Correct. Are kids at risk – Yes. Are kids being correctly educated in how to be safe – No. Are parents doing enough – Hell No.

richardjgreen

Richard works as a Cloud Consultant for Fordway Solution where his primary focus is to help customers understand, adopt and develop with Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and System Center. Richard Green is an IT Pro with over 15 years' of experience in all things Microsoft including System Center and Office 365. He has previously worked as a System Center consultant and as an internal solutions architect across many verticals. Outside of work, he loves motorbikes and is part of the orange army, marshaling for NGRRC, British Superbikes and MotoGP. He is also an Assistant Cub Scout Leader.