RECEIVING your first laptop, mobile phone or tablet computer can be a turning point in a child’s life.

The device can connect them to their friends, family members and a new online world filled with adventure.

It will start them on their lifelong journey of discovering what the world wide web has to offer.

Children nowadays may already know the internet is a magical entity capable of answering obscure questions, offering Minecraft and loom band tutorials as well as serving up endlessly-repeatable videos of startled cats.

But what they may not necessarily knowabout is the dark side of the web – viruses, phishing, cyber bullying and online grooming.

The internet is full of hidden dangers just lurking around the corner, waiting for unsuspecting children and adults alike to fall into the trap.

Computer crime officer Sgt John Woodley, from Essex Police, has urged parents to help keep children safe online.

He said: “It is particularly important to remember the dangers of the internet after Christmas especially as many very young children will be getting tablet computers for the first time and as such will be starting their online journey. Before they start their journey I would advise parents to talk to them about ‘stranger danger’ and how this is a very real concern in the online world.”

Parents traditionally know to warn children about strangers approaching them on the street offering sweets or a lift home, but the dangers of strangers on social networking sites and games are less widely known.

Sgt Woodley added: “There is a whole part of the internet known as the dark web, where people who know what they are doing can access information about you.

“Children need to follow the stranger danger advice and apply it online too.

“The internet is a great place to socialise, find out information, play games, listen to music, watch videos and help you with your homework and is a major part of everyday life.

“However, it can also be dangerous and sometimes scary. It is important that you learn how to keep safe online to avoid making yourself vulnerable and potentially getting into dangerous situations.

“Make sure that you follow these simple rules to be smart and stay safe online.”

S is for Safe.

Keep safe by being careful not to give out personal information when you’re chatting or posting online.

Personal information includes email address, home address, age, phone number, passwords, school etc.

M is for Meeting.

Meeting someone you have only been in touch with online can be dangerous. Only do so with your parents or carers permission and even then only when they can be present.

Remember online friends are still strangers even if you have been talking to them for a long time.

A is for Accepting.

Accepting emails, IM messages or opening files, pictures or texts from people you don’t know or trust can lead to problems – they may contain viruses or nasty messages.

R is for Reliable.

Someone online might lie about who they are and information on the internet may not be true.

Always check information with other websites, books or someone who knows.

If you like chatting online it’s best to only chat to your real world friends and family.

T is for Tell.

Tell your parent, carer or a trusted adult if someone or something makes you feel uncomfortable or worried, or if you or someone you know is being bullied online.

Sgt Woodley said: “If children are concerned about activity they see or get exposed to online we would advise them to tell a trusted adult.

“If they feel they can’t do this we would advise them to contact Childline where trained counsellors will help them to deal with the situation.

“If even this is hard then contact can be made with Childline anonymously on 0800 1111.”

As part of a crackdown on child sexual exploitation, thousands of schoolchildren across Basildon will be taught about internet safety next year.

Essex Police and Basildon Council will deliver the Walk Online roadshow at Woodlands School, over February and March, in a bid to keep children safe from online predators.

The roadshow forms part of Operation Delta, which was launched last month to tackle crime in Basildon and educate people about cyber criminals.

Children aged about 11 will be taught how to be safe online and how to avoid unknowingly giving out personal information.