How to keep your children safe online - the basics
17 Sep 2020
The internet is a wonderful resource for children and teenagers but it is not without its dangers - everything from messages received from strangers to inappropriate content to cyberbullying can pose them a risk.
Being online is now a key part of life for today's youngsters and it is important they are aware, but not left in fear, of the threats.
By following simple guidance and knowing where to find help and resources should it be needed, both you as parents and your children can learn to confidently handle any problems if they arise.
Here we look at some of the common themes and we’ve also included lots of links to websites that have more in-depth safety information and guides.
Start with an open conversation
Experts say that talking to your children and teenagers about their online habits is always the best start - setting an open tone that encourages them to come to you should they encounter something bad, nasty or worrying - rather than fear they will be told off for doing something wrong. With older children and teenagers, it's useful to form a two-way relationship where they are happy to discuss the latest trends and technology they are seeing or using, enabling you to learn and keep up-to-date too. ThinkUKnow is a great starting point while this NSPCC guide is also useful for chats around inappropriate content.
Set clear boundaries for online time
Young people have the online world at their fingertips 24/7 and while each parent will make their own choice at what age a child receives their own device, parental control software and apps can help limit their usage. For example, the Nintendo Switch handheld games console has a dedicated phone app to set time windows or lengths of play. Apple has Parental Controls built-in to the iPhone/iPad while Android handsets have similar. Windows and Mac computers also have in-built options while extra software such as Norton Family or Qustodio can be bought. Always clearly explain any time boundaries rather than just foisting them.
Get the basics right first
One piece of expert advice has always been to never let a younger child use a computer or device alone in their bedroom unsupervised. It is possible, for example, for a camera or webcam to be compromised and for strangers to spy through these on what children are doing. A simple sticker or cover over the lens when not in use is a good idea. You could also consider a curfew where they turn in their device before bedtime. As the Association of Optometrists explains, the blue light generated by screens can be detrimental to children's sleep patterns and increase eye strain.
Block different types of websites
All Parental Control settings can restrict different types of websites your children visit. Most often, this is based on age - especially banning any site categorised as being for over 18s due to adult content. If your children use YouTube Kids, you can restrict what they search for or watch using this guide. This useful info from Panda Security is a couple of years old now but covers the majority of devices and settings too while the NSPCC also has great advice. Another tip is to regularly check your child's web-browsing history to see what they have looked at and talk about it together.
Set master passwords and know theirs too
Mutual respect is key when it comes to online safety. For example, for older children, you could promise not to 'snoop' on what they are doing as long as the password for their device is also known to you… then you could gain access if something is wrong and safeguarding is needed. There is a good introduction to that from Get Safe Online. For younger children, adults can set a password that must be entered each time a new app is downloaded or a purchase requested. It is key to teach children not to share passwords or phone lock codes with friends.
Respect the platform age restrictions
When confronted with the usual reply of "But all my friends' parents let them use it", this can be tricky. However, all social media platforms or popular apps have Terms of Service setting a minimum age for using them. For example, WhatsApp is meant to be 16+ while Facebook and TikTok are 13+. This guide from Internet Matters breaks down the main ones. Be mindful that these restrictions are there for a reason because of the dangers such platforms could pose so regular monitoring is paramount if younger children are using them or only allowing it in your presence could be one compromise.
Teach the dangers of sharing personal details
With the increasing number of different platforms children are on, or profiles they have, it could be easy for a cybercriminal or stranger to piece together details about their life if they overshare personal information or photographs publicly (available to anyone) online. Encourage them to think carefully before sharing information on everything from where they live or hang out to what school they go to – and to keep this in closed private networks. You could monitor these regularly to see and understand who their followers are. Online grooming where an adult makes friends with a child/teenager to encourage them to commit sexual acts is a very real threat.
Talk together about cyberbullying
Bullying has moved from the playground to the mobile phone. It can cause children lots of stress and panic so it's crucial they know they can come to you at the first sign of it – from an angry message calling them names to a terrible comment below a video or photo they've posted as well as something more serious like a threat to cause them harm. It is important to document what is happening and keep screenshots. Often the first step is telling their school if other pupils are involved. The National Bullying Helpline also has a detailed guide here on how to report it to each major platform.
Do your own research
It can be daunting trying to understand all the different online platforms or apps so this guide from Net Aware is a good place for staying on top of them. Other excellent, in-depth resources are:
It is important to remember that the online world is not all bad, dark or negative. It can be navigated with all the ideas and suggestions in our guide and the huge number of resources we have linked to.
We also know that staying safe online as an adult can be tricky too. That is why we created this guide to the basics of protecting yourself from viruses, hackers and cybercrime and you can read it by clicking here.