1280x720-vpfDespite our good intentions to limit television time to a minimum, most of us parents do allow our children to watch the odd show. I know that if my children are being particularly rowdy, then 30 minutes of Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol will calm them down and allow me a few minutes peace.

However, we need to be vigilant of what they are allowed to watch, especially when using sites like YouTube to access different shows. My 5-year old daughter is now able to find the YouTube app and get to her favourite shows relatively easily, which means that I slack off and cease to monitor exactly what she is clicking. But I have to be more aware and pro-active about what my children are watching, especially because I know that there are loads of dodgy sites out there just waiting for their innocent little fingers to click the link.

Currently, thousands of seemingly innocent videos are available on YouTube, but which are actually dark parodies of the well-known children’s shows. BBC Trending has found hundreds of videos of children’s cartoon characters with inappropriate themes. In addition to Peppa Pig, there are similar videos featuring characters from the Disney movie Frozen, the Minions franchise, Doc McStuffins, Thomas the Tank Engine, and many more. Often they contain disturbing content and can pass for the real cartoons, particularly when viewed by unsuspecting children.

Fortunately there are ways that we can make the web safer for our children, and many sites which support parents in monitoring what our kids see. YouTube has suggested that parents use the YouTube Kids app, which is available for mobile phones and tablets, and turn on “restricted mode” which limits flagged content. However, some content can still slip through the net, so more simple solutions can also be found:

Set up parental controls

Parental controls are software and tools which you can install on phones or tablets, games consoles or laptops – and even your home broadband. You can also use them to help you block or filter the content your child sees when searching online. Family-friendly public WiFi can help when you’re out and about.

Parental controls are also available to help you to:

  • plan what time of day your child can go online and for how long
  • stop your children from downloading apps that they are too young for
  • manage the content that different family members can see

Talk to your children about staying safe online

When your children are old enough, start with a family discussion to set boundaries and agree what’s appropriate. Talk to your child about what you yourself think is appropriate – but also involve them in the conversation. Ask what they think is OK for children of different ages – they’ll feel more involved in the decision-making and therefore more inclined to follow the rules.

Be aware that your child might talk about friends who use apps or visit sites that you’ve decided aren’t suitable. You need to have good reasons why certain sites aren’t allowed, especially if their friends are allowed to access them.

Monitor the web yourself

Have a look yourself at the sites your children are keen on. If they love Minecraft, for example, go and have a look and see if it’s what you think us acceptable for your kids. Every one of us has a different opinion on what is appropriate, and children with different responses to action on screen, so don’t just take your friends’ word for it that something is fine.

Avoid inappropriate videos on YouTube

The YouTube Kids app filters out most – but not all – of the disturbing videos. YouTube suggests turning on “restricted mode” which can be found at the bottom of YouTube pages, and also turning off the Search feature in the app

Finally, visit the NSPCC Net Aware website (https://www.net-aware.org.uk/)

This site provides so much support and has lots of ideas on how to approach the subject of online safety with your children. The NSPCC stands up for children’s rights and works towards protecting children as well as possible. They have information on different sites that children regularly visit, and advice on how to stay safe.

Whatever your child is doing online, there’s always a way that you can help keep them safe.