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

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

KS1 Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd...

Corporate Communications Manager - London - up to £80,000

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Corporate Marketing Communications M...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Francois Hollande at the Paris summit on Iraq with ministers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on 15 September  

What's going to happen in Syria and Iraq? A guide to the new anti-Isis coalition's global strategy

Jonathan Russell
The colours of autumn leaves are among the many pleasures of the coming season  

In Sickness and in Health: As autumn arrives, more of us should wear high-vis clothes

Rebecca Armstrong
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week