Children and young people spend a lot of time online – it can be a great way for them to socialise, explore and have fun. But children do also face risks such cyber bullying or seeing content that’s inappropriate. That’s why it’s important for them to know how to stay safe online.
Whether you’re unsure about what happens online or are up to speed with new technology, it’s important that you talk to your child about staying safe.
It may feel daunting, but you don’t need to be an expert on the internet. Understanding what children do online and the risks they face will help you keep your child safe online. Here are some tips and useful websites to help with e-Safety for parents and carers.
1. Have the conversation early and often
Children and young people spend an average of 12 hours a week online (Ofcom (2014) Childrens_2014_Report (PDF). London: Ofcom.) and it becomes part of their routine early on in life. That’s why it’s important to start talking to your child about keeping safe online at an early age. It’s easier to have conversations about online safety little and often, rather than trying to cover everything at once. As your children get older, and technology changes, make sure you keep talking about what they’re doing online and how to stay safe.
2. Explore online together
Ask your child to show you their favourite things to do online, and show an interest in what they do – just like you would offline. This will give you a much better idea of what they’re getting up to. And it gives you a way to support and encourage them while learning what they know.
3. Know who your child is talking to online
Children don’t think of people they’ve met online through social networking and online games as strangers, they’re just online friends. So it’s important to keep track of who your child’s talking to. Ask them questions like:
- who do they know that has the most online friends?
- how can they know so many people?
- how do they choose who to become friends with online?
Explain to your child that it’s easy for people to lie about themselves online, like their age, for example, because you have never met them. Agree your child will ‘friend’ a trusted adult on their social networks or online games. You could also become ‘friends’ with your child so you can see their profile and posts but your child may not want to ‘friend’ you, especially as they get older. Agree that your child can ‘friend’ a trusted adult like an aunt or uncle so they can let you know if they see anything worrying on your child’s profile.
4. Set rules and agree boundaries
It’s useful to agree on some ground rules together. These will depend on your child’s age and what you feel is right for them, but you might want to consider:
- the amount of time they can spend online
- when they can go online
- the websites they can visit or activities they can take part in
- sharing images and videos
- how to treat people online and not post anything they wouldn’t say face-to-face.
If your child plays online games:
- check the age rating before they play
- make sure you know who they’re playing with
- talk to them about what information is OK to share with other players
- negotiate the amount of time they spend playing online games.
5. Make sure that content is age-appropriate
You know your child best, so check that the websites, social networks and games they’re using are suitable for them. Check that your browser’s homepage (the page that you see when you open an internet window) is set to a website that you’re happy for your child to see. Online games, movies and some websites will also have an age rating or minimum age to sign up. Age limits are there to keep children safe. So you shouldn’t feel pressured into letting your child sign up or use websites that you feel they are too young for.
6. Use parental controls to filter, restrict, monitor or report content(Tab content expanded)(Tab content expanded)
You can set up parental controls to stop your child from seeing unsuitable or harmful content online:
- Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as O2 Home Broadband, TalkTalk, Sky or BT, provide controls to help you filter or restrict content.
- Laptops, phones, tablets, game consoles and other devices that connect to the internet have settings to activate parental controls. Here is a link to a few. If a certain device is not listed a Google search or the manufacturers website should offer parental control advice.
- Software packages are available – some for free – that can help you filter, restrict or monitor what your child can see online.
Remember that if your child goes online away from home, the same controls might not be in place at other people’s houses or on public Wi-Fi. Agree with your child how they will use public Wi-Fi or let other parents know what your child is or isn’t allowed to do online. As your child gets older you can change the level of control that you use. If your child asks you to remove the controls completely, and you are happy to do so, make sure you agree what behaviour is acceptable online first.
7. Check they know how to use privacy settings and reporting tools
Check the privacy settings on any online accounts your child has, like Facebook or games, and remind them to keep their personal information private. And talk to your child about what to do if they see content or are contacted by someone that worries or upsets them. Make sure they know how to use tools to report abuse.