How to keep your child safe online

The internet has transformed the world we live in, with technology becoming a fixed feature in all our day to day lives.

There are numerous benefits of online technology for children including:

access to a wealth of information for independent research

online learning tools; social connection and interaction

development of a wider world view

awareness of different cultures.

However, there’s no doubt that children spending a lot of time online also presents certain risks. These can range from dangers such as cyberbullying and online predators to issues involving privacy or phishing scams. To ensure your child stays safe online, it’s important for both of you to be aware of these risks and how to combat them effectively.

1.Talk with your child about what they like to do online

The risks that your child is potentially exposing themselves to will depend largely on what their online behaviour is, i.e. gaming, certain social media platforms, or watching videos. The National Online Safety website has free guides on what you need to know about all the different types of online activities and the dangers they can pose. Studies show that almost a third of children have secret online accounts that their parents don’t know about – it’s very hard to keep an eye on something you don’t know exists! The more upfront and honest your child feels they can be with you, the safer they will be online.

2. Alert them to stranger danger

Children should be taught to be wary of strangers in every aspect of life, but it is even more important when it comes to online behaviour.  The internet allows people from all over the world to instantly connect and talk to each other and it’s easy for people to assume fake online identities (known as “catfishing”). Talk to your child about why someone might do this and ensure that they’re alert when it comes to people online who they don’t know in real life. You should handle the issue of potential online predators sensitively and appropriately depending on your child’s age. Research shows that virtually all such cases involve children aged 12 and above – avoid unduly alarming and frightening your child with an overload of information if they’re still much younger. When talking to teens about cyber predators, here’s a list of dos and don’ts to help you present the dangers without scaremongering.

3. Emphasise that online activity is never erased

Children need to be aware that everything they do online has a permanent record. Make sure that they’re not only careful about what they say to others online, but also talk to them about online privacy and what they should and shouldn’t share about themselves. Perhaps set up the privacy settings on their social media and apps together and talk through why each point is important, e.g. not using full names or having private photo-sharing accounts. This will help ingrain safe online habits from the beginning.

4. Teach them the warning signs of suspicious online activity

Phishing and scams can be very deceptive, and children are often targeted as they tend to be more trustworthy and naïve. Teach them that if something seems too good to be true online, then it probably is. Make it clear to never give any contact or credit card information to unknown sources and to be wary of random pop-up sites, links or attachments. Once they know what to look for, such scams become much more obvious and easier to avoid.

5. Limit their online time

Everyone needs to strike a balance between the online and the real world. April 2020, mid-lockdown, saw a record high of internet usage in the UK, averaging at four hours a day. Websites and social media are programmed to be incredibly addictive; functionalities such as the continuous scroll or videos loading automatically may draw your child in and encourage them to view content that they didn’t originally intend on. Not letting them spend endless hours online will help prevent them from going deeper and deeper into the internet.

6. Research parental control software

There’s lots of software out there that helps parents protect their children in this digital age. From blocking inappropriate web content to monitoring their phone activity, these tools are a good way to ensure your child’s online behaviour is age appropriate. Check out the UK Safer Internet Centre’s guides on parental controls available on social networks, home internet providers, and tech devices. Be honest about these measures with your child though – you don’t want them to feel like you’re spying on them. Remember, supervision is important but so too is their right to privacy.

In upshot, keeping your child safe online is an ongoing endeavour and what it involves will evolve as they get older and their online behaviour changes. Resources such as the NSPCC or National Online Safety are great ways to stay on top of what children are doing online and the steps you can take to prevent risky or inappropriate behaviour.

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