Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Parents told to 'snoop' on children's Facebook sites

South Yorkshire Police have told parents to "snoop" on their children if they use social network websites.

PC Joy Price, a children and young persons officer in Sheffield, said many parents "haven't a clue" about online parental controls.

Online bullying has been on the rise in the city, police said.

"It happens at home online and then it's taken into schools, but it's parents not teachers who should be taking responsibility," said Ms Price.

She said: "We find that children may have one account for family and close friends, and another fake account for adding people from school and people they don't know."

"Children add people they have no idea who they are and set up meetings with strangers."

Young teen problem

In a poll carried out by security firm Norton in 2010, 7% of UK parents said they had absolutely no idea what their children were up to on their computers and mobile phones.

Ms Price said that South Yorkshire Police found the problem was mostly among younger teenagers.

She added: "The problem is spread across the city but we find it's mostly 11-13 year olds who use social networking sites in the wrong way.

"By the time they're 16, 17, 18, they've grown out of it and are using Facebook for what it's intended."

Facebook's terms state that users must be over 13, but the officer said many children ignore this.

"I've known a child from the age of eight on Facebook," she said. "It's unbelievable; they're not allowed into town on their own but they're allowed on Facebook at home."

'Serious negative experience'

The Norton poll revealed that 30% of UK children had suffered a "serious" negative experience online, including invitations to meet online friends and exposure to indecent pictures.

GP and parenting expert Dr Clare Bailey, based in Buckinghamshire, said "snooping" implies a breakdown of trust, but parents of young teenagers should teach them how to use social networking sites safely.

"The expectation that you might look at their Facebook seems a responsible thing to do," she said.

"Children should also know what to do if they have contact that makes them feel uncomfortable."

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