How can I start a conversation about online safety with my child?

The digital world is changing all the time, and while it’s a wonderful tool for children to learn, play and connect, it’s imperative to keep up with the right measures to keep your child safe online. Education Officer Phoebe Moriarty Roberts from Childnet International looks at the ways you can start a conversation about online safety with your family.

Through my role as an Education Officer, I spend most of my week in schools across the country talking to children, young people, staff and parents about online safety. At Childnet our main message for parents is to take the time and speak with your child about the games and services they like online. By engaging with your child and having an open dialogue about online safety, even if they are still young, we hope that your child will be more likely to come to you if they have a problem with something online in the future.

Having regular honest discussions is key and I hope that the following conversation starters help you begin that open dialogue around online safety with your family.

Online safety – how to protect your children

Ask your child:

  1. What is your favourite thing to do online? Can you show me the sites and games you enjoy?
  • Talking regularly with your child about how they use technology can help you to find out what their digital life is like, including what their favourite sites and services are and also how being online makes them feel. It’s always helpful to have these conversations when new devices are introduced, e.g. a tablet for Christmas or a new phone for their birthday.
  1. How do you stay safe online? What tips can you tell me and where did you learn them? What is OK and not OK to share?
  • Remind your child how important it is to keep their personal information safe- such as their full name, email address, telephone number, house address and school name
  • Talk about the images and video they might see or share online. What can be shared in public and what shouldn’t? Help your child understand that sharing a certain image can reveal part of their personality, give away personal information, and can leave an impression on those who can see it.
  • Ensure they are using the privacy settings available and go through these together regularly, or when you set up new accounts.
  • Encourage them to think critically about the information they find. Before believing everything they read online prompt them to think carefully about where it comes from, who’s written it and whether you can find a similar message on two other trusted websites.
  • Not everyone is who they say they are online so remind you child never to agree to meet up with someone they only know online. No matter how friendly they might seem or how well they think they know them, they are still a stranger. Remind them to always tell you or a trusted adult if someone asks to meet up and report unwanted contact to CEOP.
  1. If something made you worried or uncomfortable online where would you go for help? Can you show me how you can block and report on the games and sites you use?

Remind you child that the most important thing is to tell an adult if they need help and reassure them that you are always there to listen and talk about anything that makes them feel worried or upset. Explore the report and block buttons together on their favourite apps and games and reinforce the importance of not retaliating if someone upsets them or makes them angry.  Telling them to take a screen shot is also helpful as it means you can clearly see first-hand the problem.

  1. Can you help me with ……………..?

We often hear from parents that they feel overwhelmed with the amount of games and apps their child is accessing. Try not to focus too much on fully learning the mechanics of a game or app, instead focus on the behaviour of your child or the risks involved as these will apply across different platforms and devices. Many children are extremely tech savvy so encourage your child to use their expertise and talk you through the specific services they use and how they work. Perhaps they can show you how to do something better online or they might have a friend who would benefit from their help and support.

  1. What could we do to get more out of the internet as a family and further enjoy our lives online whilst staying safe?

The online world is an increasingly important part of modern family life, so it makes sense to approach it as a family too. Why not make a pledge together on how, as a family, you’re going to use the internet safely and positively? For example:

  • We all agree to use kind words when online
  • We agree to look at reviews and ratings of apps together
  • We agree to all charge our devices in the kitchen at bed time
  • We agree to put aside our devices when having dinner

This will ensure children are aware of the boundaries set in place and also means they know what to do if something goes wrong.

Manage family devices

There are lots of tools available to help you manage the devices used by your family. For example, knowing how to activate and use parental controls can help protect your child from seeing inappropriate content online. Setting your Wi-Fi to only be available between certain hours of the day can limit your child’s usage, and disabling features such as geo-location or in-app purchases on your child’s phone can prevent them sharing their exact location or stop an unexpected bill.

If you want further advice and guidance on online safety then visit the Childnet website where you will find a parents and carers page highlighting hot topics, help pages and resources.

About The Author

Childnet International
Online Safety Charity

Childnet’s mission is to work in partnership with others around the world to help make the internet a great and safe place for children. We work directly with children and young people from the ages of 3 to 18 on a weekly basis, as well as parents, carers, teachers and professionals. At the heart of all our work is the belief that when used properly the internet is a wonderfully positive tool for children and young people. We strive to take a balanced approach, making sure that we promote the positive opportunities, as well as responding to the risks and equipping children and young people to deal with them.

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