Liverpool and England legend underlines importance of conversations when keeping safe online

09 Feb 2023 UK SIC

A former footballer, famous for his time with Liverpool, England and others, has underlined the importance of conversations between parents, carers and their children when it comes to keeping safe online.

John Barnes spoke with the UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC) at a preparation event for Safer Internet Day at Liverpool Football Club last week (31 January). The event, held at Anfield, welcomed 200 primary school children from across the city for a series of online safety assemblies and activities.

Barnes, who is a father of seven, says it’s important to be on hand to have conversations about online safety with your children – even if you don’t necessarily have all the answers.

“I don’t profess to be an expert on social media but what we’re doing today, talking about safeguarding on the internet for young kids is really important because when I was young, and you spoke about bullying, it was a fight, or someone calls you a name at school and you go home and it gets forgotten about. Whereas now, because of the internet, kids are getting this 24 hours a day. It’s okay for the old people to say ‘don’t go on the internet, you don’t have to do it’ but it’s a big part of our children’s lives.

“I look at my 37-year-old son and my 12-year-old son in terms of the way they see life because my eldest, when he was 12, this stuff wasn’t around – whereas my 12-year-old is living it. It’s ok for me to say ‘don’t do it’ but that means he’s not getting the help he actually needs in terms of being able to report it or to talk to parents, teachers or friends about it rather than just bottling it up. Because, as a child, when you’re in your bedroom all night, being bullied on the internet and you’re afraid to tell anyone, that really can impact you.

“We’ve seen today that these kids are online for in excess of two hours a day and I expect my son is probably double or triple that and not understanding it is a difficult thing for me as a parent, as a person. However, I always urge them to come to me or their mother and don’t be afraid to talk about issues they’re having because there are so many things going on online to our kids that we don’t know about. We just have to be open and honest and say if you have any issues whatsoever, don’t be afraid to come to us and talk about it. Don’t be embarrassed because, of course, that’s the only way you can get help.

“It’s also a generational thing because when I was younger, my dad would have said ‘just get on with it’, ‘don’t listen to them’ but times have changed and we can’t just get on with it because it is incessant – it’s 24 hours a day. For me now as a parent, my attitude has evolved and it’s different now for my younger kids than it was for my older kids. I also have to learn about a modern way of dealing with these issues because these are new issues that I didn’t have a problem with growing up.

“There are so many pitfalls to life online, many of which I don’t understand, but the advice you give to a six-year-old is different to that of a 16-year-old. Therefore, the biggest advice is that, if you have any issues whatsoever, go to talk to someone, be that a parent, teacher, or friend. Talking is the most important thing.

“That’s the message we want to give our children. In my day, we were told to not talk about it and just deal with it because life is hard. As much as that is the way I was brought up, I know for kids these days that’s not the right way to be. I think it’s really about knowing your child, knowing what works for them and how to help because there will be some who can deal with it and some who can’t – it’s not a one size fits all. As long as you make them feel comfortable in coming to talk to you if they want to, then that’s a good way to start.”

To see the full Safer Internet Day film from Anfield, click here.

Safer Internet Day 2023 took place on 7 February.

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