IN so many aspects of my life the internet plays a key role.
My children use it for researching their homework and it is an essential tool in my day-to-day work for accessing information and communicating with my constituents.
I am a real fan of Twitter, Facebook and would be lost without my iPad. Can any of us imagine life without the internet and social networking?
Yet as we enjoy its many benefits, Safer Internet Day serves as a reminder that the internet has a darker side.
Ninety one per cent of five-15 years olds live in a household with the internet, 41 per cent of 12-15 year olds have a smart phone, and, amazingly, 50 per cent of 9-13 year olds have a Facebook account.
When I was growing up – and it wasn’t that long ago! – we had some sensible messages about not meeting strangers, checking identification, treating peers with respect, and always talking through anything that worried you.
We live in a different world now, but those messages remain true for the world of the internet.
Our young people need to be careful who they meet and talk to in cyberspace every bit as much as in reality – maybe more so, as there are some people out there who impersonate children.
It is vital that we educate children and young people not to give away personal and identifying information and to Connect with Respect and be very careful as to what they post online.
The issue of internet safety is of growing concern to politicians and we are increasingly receiving correspondence about it.
That is one of the reasons why I have been in discussion with junior ministers around the development of a cross-departmental internet strategy.
Many government departments have taken steps in raising awareness and in developing materials, systems and structures, yet such is the complexity of this issue we all need to pull together in a coherent direction.
The UK Council on Child Internet Safety has done much work with the industry to ensure improvement in safety through parental controls and promotion of e-safety initiatives, and organisations like the NSPCC and the Internet Watch Foundation have also worked hard to promote awareness of internet safety.
However, there is much more to be done on this matter, and I know internet safety is a cross-party concern.
We need to ensure our systems are the very best, that each government department is playing its part in protecting children, and that parents are equipped with information and the skills to speak to their children about the potential dangers that exist.
My best advice is simply to remember the keep safe messages you learned as a child and encourage your children to apply these online. Ultimately, being able to talk to your children and encouraging them to seek help is one of the best ways to keep them safe in both the actual and the virtual world.