Promoting safe internet use among young people involves striking a difficult balance: on the one hand, it's important to makes sure they're protected against the harassment and invasions of privacy they can face online, but on the other hand, it's unrealistic to think you can stop a child from using these services in this day and age.
Indeed, there's no way to turn back the clock on the always-online nature of the modern world, so those responsible for young children - including family members, teachers and professional care providers - need to focus on doing all they can to ensure that youngsters are using online services in as safe and responsible a manner as possible.
One of the best ways of making sure that children are staying safe online is by helping them take precautions when setting up a new profile for a web-based service. Profiles are needed to access a variety of sites and networks, from gaming and social networking services to essential resources used in schoolwork, but they can also pose a security risk if children aren't careful.
However, these risks are relatively easy to mitigate by following a few simple safety tips, allowing youngsters to get the most out of online services without putting themselves in any danger.
Pick a safe username
Choosing the right username is one of the most important parts of the setup process, as children will need a name that allows them to find and interact with friends online, without giving too much away about themselves.
As such, it's best to make sure that young people do not include their full names or birth years in their usernames, as this kind of personal data can easily be misused by malicious users; however, using a fake or misleading name should also be discouraged, as this is not conducive to the kind of honest, open interactions you want them to be having online.
Instead, it may be best to pick a nickname of some personal significance that is authentic without giving too much away. Kids should also be encouraged to avoid making connections with total strangers online, and offered guidance and support when they receive requests from other users.
Create a password that's secure
Password security is one of the most important methods for keeping users safe online, regardless of their age, so adults have a responsibility to teach children to take this issue seriously early on.
Naturally, most kids' instinct will be to select a word they find significant or memorable, but they should be reminded that this could make it too easy for another user to guess; meaning their account and personal data could become vulnerable. An even worse idea would be to select something excessively generic, such as the word "password" - the second most commonly used password in the UK in 2016, despite how easy it is to guess.
Creating a strong password can certainly incorporate some kind of memorable phrase, but it's best to mix it up by including a minimum of ten characters, including both uppercase and lowercase characters, and numbers as well as letters. Kids should also be encouraged to change the password regularly to provide an additional layer of protection.
Don't let the profile picture give away too much
Many online profiles allow users to upload personal images. While many children find it fun to share pictures of themselves with their contacts, it's worth bearing in mind that these images can often give away more than was actually intended.
For example, it's best not to upload any photos with house numbers or street names visible in the background, as this could make it easy for troublemakers to track down a family's physical location; choices of clothing can also be a giveaway, especially if the photo features school uniforms.
Parents and guardians should remember that many of the photos taken with modern smartphones are extremely detailed, so even a small piece of visual information that might look blurry or indistinct can be magnified by those with a reason for snooping.
Make yourself aware of the monitoring options
Letting a child have control over their own internet use can be important in the development of their independence, but at the same time, it's irresponsible to let them go completely unsupervised.
That's why it's advisable for adults to check out the various monitoring options available to them when their child is setting up a new account. Many online services offer parental control applications that allow guardians to keep track of usage or place limitations on certain features, such as voice communications or micro transaction spending.
It may also be a good idea to set up a family email address for setting up online accounts for children, as this lets parents keep an eye on activity and notifications from youngsters' accounts without flooding their own personal inboxes with spam.