Helping your child stay safe online

With an ever-changing internet, it is important that parents are engaged and informed to ensure that children can get the most out of it, safely, says Matthew Llewellin, Digital Strategy Leader at Sydenham High School.

Being able to keep up to date with your children’s use of technology can be a challenge. Moreover, they will need advice and protection when it comes to managing their lives online and using social media – and the internet as a whole – positively and safely.

Children need to understand the impact that their online activity can have on both themselves and other people. They must be aware of the digital footprint they create on the internet. These footprints can be perceived positively or negatively. It is not only about the now, as the permanence of their digital lives can have a long term impact on their online reputation, well-being and future career prospects.

It’s easy to feel anonymous online, so it’s important that your children are aware of who is able to view, and potentially share, the information that they post. Personal information must be kept safe. Privacy settings on devices and within browsers and apps allow for greater control of what information is shared and what is protected. They must be comfortable in the knowledge that there is an understanding adult that they can turn to if something online has worried or upset them.

Knowing the rules

Some online content intended for adults only; other content may be hurtful or harmful. This content may be accessible and viewable via social networks, online games, apps, blogs and websites. Filtering options can be activated on home broadband connections and controls on individual devices to avoid this, but as important is the discussion you can have with your children in regard to what they might see online. Get to know the meaning of age ratings for games and apps (Apple App Store / Google Play Store), which can help to indicate the level and suitability of the content. There are some excellent resources from the Safer Internet Centre (SIC) and ChildNet to help structure these discussions and provide further information. It’s also important for your children to consider the reliability of online material and be aware that it might not be true or written with a bias. Moreover, there can be legal consequences for using or downloading copyrighted content that may appear to be free online or within apps. Open discussion of these issues and their implications between you and your children will allow them to sensibly negotiate any problems with minimal consequence.

When considering allowing your children to use social media, be aware of the nominal age restrictions placed on accounts by each service. Open conversations about the reasons why these age restrictions are in place should inform your children about the consequences of their actions. New friends made online may not be who they say they are. Once a friend is added to an online account, the account holder may be sharing their personal information with them. Regularly reviewing friends or followers lists and removing unwanted contacts is a useful step. Remind your child to always tell you or another trusted adult if they ever receive any messages that make them feel worried or uncomfortable. If you have concerns that your child is, or has been, the subject of inappropriate sexual contact or approach by another person, it’s vital that you report it to the police via the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. If your child is the victim of cyberbullying, save all the messages, photos and other content received as evidence. They should understand that it is never a good idea to retaliate against malicious comments made towards them online. Reinforce with your child the importance of telling a trusted adult. Watching together films such as those created for Safer Internet Day 2016 to highlight the laws around online behaviour is a useful medium to start meaningful conversations about bullying online.

Children and adults may find themselves inadvertently spending money online, for example within smartphone or tablet apps. So explore the options for turning off or restricting in-app purchasing on Apple and Android devices. If you are unsure how to do this you can visit the UK SIC’s Parent’s Guide to Technology or Ofcom’s Parent’s Guide. Discuss with your children how to keep their personal information private, and choose to use a family email address when filling in online forms. Opt to block pop ups: most web browsers have these now turned on as default but double check. With these aspects in mind, it is important to remember and reassure your children that the internet is a really positive tool that makes our lives much easier

Top Tips

There are real advantages in maintaining an open dialogue with your child about their internet use.  Here are some simple steps to follow:-

  • Ask them to talk to you about their time online, who they’re talking to, what services they are using, and any issues that they may be experiencing.
  • Create a family agreement to establish your children’s boundaries, and your expectations, when on the internet.
  • Give your child strategies to deal with any online content that they are not comfortable with – such as turning off the screen, telling an adult they trust and using online reporting facilities.
  • Consider using filtering software to block unwanted content. In addition to filtering, remember that discussion with your child, and involvement in their internet use, are both effective ways to educate them about the internet.
  • Encourage your children to ‘think before you post.’ Online actions may impact not only their lives but the lives of others too. Content posted privately online can be publicly shared by others, and may remain online forever. Some online behaviour may break the law, for example when comments online threaten or incite hatred.
  • Familiarise yourself with the privacy settings and reporting features available on popular sites and services.
  • If your child is being bullied online, save all available evidence and know where to report the incident, for example to the school, service provider, or the police if the law has been broken.
  • Get to know the meaning of age ratings for games and apps, which can help to indicate the level and suitability of the content. Also see if online reviews are available from other parents as these may be helpful.
  • Model for your children how to protect personal information, creating strong passwords for every account.