Leading article: Unravelling the secrets of the net

Share

What makes a child happy? The answers that nearly a thousand children came up with in a recent poll for the Children's Society were simple. Good friends, good parents, a loving family and "having fun" were the most important aspects of a happy childhood. In other words, relationships, not things, are what count. This paper has done its best to help children have what they want and need - or rather, we have sought to persuade adults to take those needs properly into account.

Children need the time and attention of the adults they love: this newspaper's Sunday Lunch Campaign is intended to encourage families to spend time together on one day of the week, at least, talking and eating - the most fundamental ways of communicating. We have reminded ourselves that summer vacations are an opportunity for parents to spend time with children, not a tiresome distraction from our main preoccupations. And we have campaigned against the stigmatisation of the so-called Asbo generation, not least because lazy stereotypes aggravate the very problems they seek to identify.

Our report today on the dangers that contemporary technology, specifically the internet, poses to children is a part of that attempt to ensure that children have what the Archbishop of Canterbury recently referred to, in these pages, as "the protected space in which children can be children". Our findings are alarming. The internet has enormously expanded paedophiles' opportunities for abuse. Whereas once it could have taken a would-be child-molester a couple of years to win a child's trust and gain the confidence of his or her parents to the point where abuse could take place, chatrooms now allow instant access, on an entirely anonymous basis. The FBI has estimated that worldwide, there are 50,000 paedophiles online at any one time. That grim statistic was given a human face last week, when a mother in Kent revealed that her 14-year-old daughter was targeted by Mark Bedford, a Canadian facing charges of abusing more than 100 children worldwide, just hours after the girl bought a webcam to communicate with her friends.

To point this out is not to condemn the technology itself. Our lives have been enriched by the internet. It allows for unprecedented ease of communication and access to information. Children are far more at home than their parents with contemporary technology. While this is a good thing, it can also widen the space between generations. If a child is texting friends or online visiting chatrooms, there may be less opportunity for face-to-face exchanges with those under the same roof. It is also exceptionally hard for a parent to supervise these activities. Indeed, many children take good care that adults do not know what they are doing online or on mobiles: as we report today, 63 per cent of teenage internet users try to hide their activities from parents.

So, what's to be done? Part of the answer is to empower the children themselves to deal with the problem. It is welcome news that schools are introducing "e-safety lessons" as part of the national curriculum. International monitoring of the industries involved is another priority: as we report today, police and webcam manufacturers are discussing ways of tightening security. But however useful the work of police, schools and manufacturers, it is no substitute for nurturing parents. If children at home can feel comfortable routinely chatting about their activities, it is more likely that parents will be alerted to the dangers that children encounter online. As the ad for an almost old-fashioned means of communication - telephones - used to put it, it's good to talk.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Installation Manager

£35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Tax Investigations Manager/Senior Manager

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits: Cameron Kennedy Recruitment: This rapidl...

Scrum Master - Southampton, Hampshire - Excellent Package

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited:...

Senior Scrum Master - Hampshire - £47k

£47000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Key skil...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Spy chief speaks on the record: "Thank you, and that's it, really"

John Rentoul
 

The daily catch-up: fathers looking after children, World Cup questions and Nostradamus

John Rentoul
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice