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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Internet terms and language: a guide for parents

Although there’s lots of information available about how to use the internet safetly, the language can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with it. This guide will help you understand the basic terms used when talking about communicating online, potential risks, fraud and scams, and viruses.

Where your child will chat/communicate

The internet lets users chat with friends and family in interactive ‘virtual’ communities. These communities are increasingly popular with children because they allow them to communicate in ‘real time’.

‘Real time’ means their contributions (or ‘posts’) are displayed immediately, for example in online chat or via messenger services. However, not all virtual communities will be moderated or supervised. The following are examples of sites your child may use to chat with others online:

  • chat rooms are ‘virtual’ rooms where users can ‘talk’ with each other by typing, either one-on-one or involving a number of people
  • forums are online discussion groups - these discussions can take place in real time or over a longer period (users can continue to add comments) 
  • instant messaging services (which look like small pop-up windows) let users see when people on their ‘friends list’ are online and send messages to them
  • social networking sites are online communities of people - users have a number of different ways of communicating with each other

Online dangers you need to be aware of


Offenders pretend to be children themselves to start online conversations

The internet can be fun and useful but you and your child need to know the risks too. Making sure your child knows the online dangers is just as important as teaching them to cross the road safely.


Unfortunately, some adults with a sexual interest in children will use the internet to communicate with them. Online grooming is when a suspected paedophile behaves in a way that suggests they are trying to contact children for illegal purposes.

You should talk to your children about who they are talking to online. Try to guide their online behaviour by negotiating and establishing boundaries. Discuss the issue of online friends sensitively. If they have not met someone face to face, they could be anyone.

It may be possible to use parental controls to block access to some online services altogether.

Sometimes offenders pretend to be children themselves, to start online conversations with real children. They might then try to continue the relationship in personal conversations on mobile phones (sometimes known as whispering). This can be very convincing and children might think they know someone as a result of this intimate contact.

Once they have established some trust, the offender may try to organise a meeting with the child. This may take weeks, months or even years.

As part of the grooming process, the offender might also try to exploit them by sending them indecent or pornographic images. This might be by email or sometimes by using a webcam (a camera connected to a computer, which can produce still pictures and video footage).

The offender may even use blackmail to persuade the child to do something they don't want to. It is vital your child knows that not everyone on the internet is who they claim to be. It’s also important both you and your child report anything suspicious.

Cyberbullying and cyberstalking

Cyberbullying is bullying online, for example through using computers and mobile phones. If someone is stalking someone else over the internet it’s known as cyberstalking. 

Reporting suspected grooming or cyberbullying

You and your child can report any suspicious, threatening or offensive behaviour to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre.

Online fraud

There are a number of potential hazards you and your child could come across while using the internet. Some are irritating while others can have more serious effects:

  • viruses are ‘infections’ in your computer which can potentially destroy all of your files and operating system
  • trojan horses are programs that can enter your computer, access files and then pass on your personal information
  • ‘spam’ is junk email messages sent to a large number of people without their consent, usually promoting a product or service
  • ‘spimming’ is sending spam using instant messaging
  • ‘malware’, short for ‘malicious software’, is created to damage a computer system
  • ‘pharming’ is when scammers try to get personal or private information from users by directing them to false - or ‘spoof’ - websites
  • ‘spyware’ is a general term for a program that secretly monitors what you're doing online
  • ‘phishing’ is emailing users and pretending to be genuine organisations to steal information for identity theft

Protecting your child online

It is impossible to be completely protected while using the internet. However, you can take simple steps to reduce the risks.

You should always set the parental controls to any device that connects to the internet. Access to the internet could be via a computer, mobile phone or games console. These are easily set up and you can check the equipment’s user manual or the manufacturer's website to see what controls you have access to. The controls will let you block troublesome email senders or access to certain websites.

Device-level parental controls means you set up settings for each individual user. This means you are able to restrict access to certain online services, or networks for each individual user.

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