I can’t believe my youngest is about to start school, and with the world we live in, and seeing how computer savvy they already are, I’ve been thinking a lot about safety on the internet for children. Internet safety is an issue I think is so important for parents. We’ve called upon Clíodhna from Childnet International whose job it is to go to schools all around the UK talking about internet safety. There really are some very interesting bits of information here, things that I just hadn’t thought about when it comes to keeping your child safe online.

Who is Childnet and what do you do?

Childnet International is a children’s charity and our main mission is to ensure that the internet is a great and safe place for children and young people. We do this in two ways: we write educational resources for students, parents and staff and we go into primary and secondary schools to educate children and young people about how to stay safe online. At Childnet, we also have a policy team who works with government and industry to ensure that the online games and services that children are using are safe.

In all of the presentations we give in schools, we always try to have a balanced approach. We believe that the internet is an amazing resource and although there are definite and worrying risks online for children, we think that education is the key in keeping children safe on the internet.

What are your main messages for parents so that they can keep their children safe online?

Our main message for parents is to take the time and speak with their children about the games and services their children like online. By engaging with their child and having an open dialogue about internet safety even when children are still young, we hope that children will be more likely to come to their parents if they have a problem with something online in the future. We also encourage parents to have a family agreement about internet safety. This will ensure that children are aware of the boundaries set in place and it also means they know what to do if something goes wrong.

Examples in your family agreement could include:

  • Keeping the tablet in the living room under the watchful eye of a parent
  • Installing parental controls to prevent children accessing adult content
  • Agreeing to tell your parents if anything worries or upsets you online as a child
  • Understanding PEGI and the content in games

What do you talk about in your internet safety sessions?

As we speak to a wide range of ages, 3-18 years old – our messages vary according to their age. For the younger age group (3-6 year olds), we read the story of Smartie the Penguin who is very lucky to get a new tablet for his birthday. We ask the children to help Smartie to make sensible choices online. There are examples in the story where Smartie needs to make a choice eg. when a player in his game tries to speak to him or when a pop up appears and it appears as if he has won a prize. The main message for this age group is if anything worries or upsets them online, they should tell an adult to get support. You can read about Smartie the Penguin to your own children here. We also have our Digiduck book for younger students which looks at being a good friend online. All of our resources are free to download.

At key stage 2 (7-11 years old), we ask children to be a bit more critical about what they see online, however they are always encouraged to tell someone if they are worried or upset with something that happens online. They learn the SMART rules. S stands for SAFE and children are asked to keep their personal information safe. They learn the importance of passwords and we say never to give out your personal information to others online. They learn that R is for RELIABLE and that not everything online is true or trustworthy so they need to be critical about what they read or see.

In secondary schools, we introduce the idea of a Digital Footprint. This is the idea that anything you publicly post online potentially could stay there forever and become your digital footprint. You can find out what your digital footprint by googling your own name. We ask young people to ‘think before they post’ and to make positive choices online to ensure they have a positive digital footprint.  We mention more so in presentations for year 10 and above that employers very often will google your name ahead of inviting you to interview. For this reason, we keep reminding young people to be careful about what they write online to ensure their digital footprint is a positive one. We also have an online reputation checklist for young people to be aware of.

Any further thoughts?

We do understand it can be daunting as parents to keep up to date with the technology your children are using. However, instead of blocking or banning children from using technology, we find that the more conversations parents have with their children about being safe online, the safer children will feel as they will know who to turn to if anything does go wrong online.

If you would like more advice on how to speak to your child about internet safety, you can download our leaflet.

By Clíodhna from Childnet International

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