I put together the video above for my YouTube channel regarding how to have 'The Chat' with your child on the subject of online safety. I wanted to write this article to cover much of the content for those who might not have time to watch the video.
Online life and offline life is just life - For many of us, we see our online lives and offline lives as different, but children are growing up with technology and the internet and for them, there isn’t a difference; online life and offline life is just life.
Technology can move at an extraordinarily fast pace and it can be difficult to know how to start talking to your child about what they’re doing online, who they might be speaking to or discussing the potential risks and issues.
Starting the conversation - Talking regularly with your child is the greatest tool to help keep them safe online. Talking regularly and making it part of daily conversation, as you would about their day at school, will help your child feel relaxed. It also means when they do have any worries, they’re more likely to come and speak to you.
But it can also be easy to become overwhelmed with the different technology, the language that children use, the huge number of games and apps which are available and the potential risks.
Age Appropriate Conversations - A big factor to consider when we’re talking to children is age or cognitive ability, which also impacts the language we use and what we can talk about. As children get older, their needs and behaviour will change, particularly as children are moving through their teenage years and are more prone to risk-taking, mood swings or whether they will even talk to you about something that they may be embarrassed or ashamed about.
For example, if you suspect grooming or exploitation, you may not wish to talk about this directly with a younger child, but instead, report directly to CEOP.
Tips For Your Conversation
Reassure them that you’re interested in their life. Recognise that they’ll be using the internet for many different things. You could ask about:
•What are their favourite things to do online?
•If their favourite activity is YouTube, what do they enjoy watching? Is it gaming or hobby related?
•What games do they like to play and why? Is it because they enjoy that game or is it because that’s where all their friends are?
•What apps do they use and why do they use them? If you haven’t heard of the app, ask them to show you how it works.
Try not to treat it as an interview – It’s a conversation, be curious and show genuine interest.
Ask whom they are talking to – Ask them about whom they’re talking to. If it’s people they don’t know offline, try not to be angry with them. Instead, ask questions about how they met and what sort of things they talk about. Remind them that not everyone online is whom they say they are and that they should never arrange to meet someone offline.
Remind them about strangers – Remind them never to share private or personal information. Use examples, such as “You shouldn’t give your number to a stranger on the street. Is somebody online you don’t know any different?” Give examples of other personal information such as names, locations, school.
Tackling Difficult Conversations
Some conversations are going to be more difficult than others, but it's so important to have these open and honest conversations, so you can help your child with any worries or issues they might be facing online.
For example, if you’re worried they have been viewing online pornography, if they have been sharing nudes, if they have seen upsetting, inappropriate or explicit content or perhaps being bullied. These more difficult conversations will heighten feelings of fear, anxiety, worry, shame and embarrassment.
•As with any conversation, it is important that we try to stay calm, balanced and non-judgemental.
•If it's something that has made you angry, fearful or concerned, don’t tackle it straight away if possible. Those feelings will affect the way we talk. Take a little time and, if possible, talk to someone else about it. Your child’s school can be a great source of information, particularly the class teacher and the Designated Safeguarding Lead and you can always contact us for advice.
•Don’t be too forceful otherwise there is the risk that they will close down.
•Consider a subtle approach instead of a head-on approach. For example, you could ask if the subject is discussed at school and what they learn about it, or it could be something that has been on the TV or you heard about it on the radio.
•Keep listening, try not to interrupt even if there is a period of silence. They may be thinking about how they word something.
•Provide context. Allow them to understand why some things are wrong, age-inappropriate or even illegal. In order to critically think and assess, they need information.
•Remind them of your family values; some parents may think that something is okay for their children, but explain why you don’t think it is appropriate for your children.
•Children often talk of being punished. For example, if they open up to you and say that they have seen explicit content by accident, they are fearful of their devices being removed from them. This is seen as a punishment and consequence for something that was out of their control. This is a judgement call that needs to be considered carefully.
Advice By Age Group
I have broken down advice by age groups as each age group needs to be considered separately. There are some themes that cross several age groups so there may be a little repetition. As with anything though you know your own children best and can just use this as intended, general guidance.
Up To 5 Years Old
Talk to your child about what the internet is and explore it together so you can show them all the great fun and educational things they can do. Reassure them that if they see anything upsetting, they should come and talk to you.
Encourage them to use devices in the same room as you so you can keep and an eye on how they’re using the internet. Stay inquisitive about what they are doing and encourage them to share their enjoyment with you.
Put yourself in control
Activate parental controls on your home broadband. Most Internet-enabled devices also offer parental controls. For example, Microsoft Windows, Apple iOS, and Android all offer ways to control the apps and sites your child can visit. I also have a few videos on the channel about parental control software and Norton would probably still be my number one recommendation.
If you let your child search independently, make sure safe search settings are activated on Google and other search engines or set the default to one designed especially for children such as Swiggle.
Keep your devices out of reach and set passwords on all your internet-enabled devices and don’t share them. Then you’ll know when and where your child is accessing the internet. Also, use passwords to make sure they’re not making additional purchases when they’re playing games or using apps.
Use age-appropriate sites and apps
Choose safe, fun, and educational sites and apps for your child. Use age ratings in the app stores to check suitability. Make use of platforms and services designed with children in mind like YouTube Kids, BBC iPlayer Kids, and Nick Jnr.
It’s never too early to start setting boundaries. Set some rules about how they use connected technology, including which apps and sites they can use and how long they can spend on them.
6-10 years old
Be clear about what your child can and can’t do online – where they can use the internet, how much time they can spend online, the sites they can visit and the type of information they can share. Agree with your child when they can have a mobile phone or tablet.
The best way to find out what your child is doing online is to ask them to tell you about what they do and what sites they like to visit. If they’re happy to, ask them to show you. Talk to them about being a good friend online.
Put yourself in control
Install Parental controls on your home broadband and any internet-enabled devices. Set up a user account for your child on the main device they use and make sure other accounts in the household are password-protected so that younger children can’t access them by accident.
Use airplane mode
Use airplane mode on your devices when your child is using them so they can’t make any unapproved purchases or interact with anyone online without your knowledge.
Encourage them to use their tech devices in a communal area like the lounge or kitchen so you can keep an eye on how they’re using the internet and also share in their enjoyment.
Talk to siblings
It’s also a good idea to talk to any older children about what they’re doing online and what they show to younger children. Encourage them to be responsible and help keep their younger siblings safe.
Use safe search engines such as Swiggle or Kids-Search. You can save time by adding these to your ‘Favourites’. Safe search settings can also be activated on Google and other search engines, as well as You Tube.
Check if it’s suitable
The age ratings that come with games, apps, films and social networks are a good guide to whether they’re suitable for your child. For example, the minimum age limit is 13 for several social networking sites, including Facebook and Instagram. Although sites aimed at under-10s like Spotlite (formerly Kudos) also have social networking elements.
11-13 years old
Have free and frank discussions
Encourage your child to talk to you about how they use the internet and show you what they do. Discuss with them the kinds of things they might come across. A good time to talk is when they get a new device or mention a new website.
Manage their devices
Encourage them to use their tech devices in a communal area such as the living room or kitchen and set up a user account for your child. If you think they aren’t old enough to have a mobile phone or tablet, stay firm and explain the reasons why.
Put yourself in control
Activate parental controls on your home broadband, all devices including mobile phones and games consoles. Safe search settings can also be activated on Google (and other search engines), YouTube and on entertainment sites like iTunes and iPlayer.
Stay safe on the move
Be aware that if your child is accessing the internet using public WiFi they may not have safety features active. Some providers are part of family-friendly WiFi schemes with filters to block inappropriate content.
Have an agreement
Agree and set boundaries with them or have a family agreement for their internet use, including when and where they can use portable devices and for how long, before they get used to doing their own thing.
Start discussions about social networking early
Talk to children about the benefits and risks of social networking before they join any sites. Let them know that anything they upload, email or message could stay around forever online.
Keep private information private
If your child does have a social networking profile, teach them to block or ignore people and how to set strict privacy settings. Request that you or someone you both trust becomes their ‘friend’ or ‘follower’ to check that conversations and posts are appropriate.
Check age ratings
The age ratings that come with games, apps, films and social networks are a good guide to whether they’re suitable for your child. For example, the age limit is 13 for several social networking sites including Facebook and Instagram.
14+ years old
Keep talking and stay interested in what they’re doing. Don’t be afraid to bring up challenging issues like sexting, pornography and cyberbullying. It could be embarrassing, but you’ll both benefit from the subjects being out in the open.
Keep their information private
Your child can set privacy settings on most social networking sites so that only close friends can search for them, tag them in a photograph or share what they’ve posted.
Stay safe on the move
Use safe settings on all mobile devices but be aware that if your child is accessing the internet using public WiFi, filters to block inappropriate content may not be active. Some outlets, like McDonald’s, are part of family-friendly WiFi schemes.
Talk to your teenager about being responsible when they’re online. Children often feel they can say things online that they wouldn’t say face-to-face. Teach them to always have respect for themselves and others online.
Talk about online reputation
Let them know that anything they upload, email or message could stay around forever online. Remind them they should only do things online that they wouldn’t mind you, their teacher or a future employer seeing. Get them to think about creating a positive digital footprint.
Show you trust them
If you can afford to, give them a small allowance that they can use for spending online so they can download apps, music and films for themselves, from places you agree together.
Don’t give in
Remind them how important it is not to give in to peer pressure to send inappropriate comments or images.
I have picked up much of this great advice from the NSPCC, CEOP and other resources linked below.
The mere fact that you are reading this shows that you have an interest in the safety and welfare of your child so please do continue to stay up to date on the topic!
I am no longer on social media so any assistance you can provide to share this article, my video or my channel would be very much appreciated as I continue to have a passion for highlighting this issue to as many people as possible and am always happy to discuss creating content for any subjects surrounding online safety.