Safer Internet Day: Five ways to keep children safe online

Marc Astley
Authored by Marc Astley
Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2020 - 09:02

It’s every parent’s instinct to keep their child away from harm, but as young people spend huge chunks of their time online, keeping them safe in the digital world can be really tricky.

Safer Internet Day’s global theme of ‘together for a better internet’ is encouraging young people, parents, teachers and organisations to work together, to make sure the internet is used safely and responsibly.

Research by the NSPCC and O2 reveals the majority of children (89%) think speaking to parents or carers is the thing to do to help them stay safe online, yet parents said only 35% of children had raised internet safety with them in the past 12 months. And less than half (42%) had agreed guidelines on what to do when using the internet.

To mark Safer Internet Day, there’s a new online family agreement for parents and children to fill in together, to help encourage more regular conversations about internet safety.

Laura Randall, associate head of child safety online at the NSPCC, says: “Children and young people are becoming increasingly aware of the risks they face when going online, and the vital role their parents or carers can play in ensuring they stay safe. As a result, parents and carers need to take the initiative and set up regular conversations with their child about their online life.”

Still at a loss? Laura Higgins, director of community safety and digital civility at online entertainment platform Roblox, outlines ways parents can keep their children safe online…

1. Talk to your kids about online safety

“It’s never too early to start talking about online safety, and from our recent research, we know these conversations don’t happen often enough – we found 93% of parents say they talk to their kids about appropriate online behaviour at least occasionally, but only 39% of teens agree. In fact, the majority of teenagers (60%) say they rarely or never discuss their online behaviour with their parents.

“Showing a genuine interest in your kids’ online experiences and setting the precedent that your door is always open will encourage them to come to you with any questions or concerns. Be curious and ask questions: what do they like best, what annoys them, what do they find tricky, what are they proud of? Then listen attentively. Kids love what they do online and will want to talk about it.”

2. Put parental controls in place

“The majority of online platforms have sophisticated parental controls, and most of us will be surprised by the range of tools available. On many platforms, it’s possible to limit or completely turn off chat functions, pre-approve in-game purchases, limit game time and even see a log of games played. These settings can also be protected with a pin code in many cases. Many companies have handy guides available for parents, so read up on the controls for each of your kids’ favourite apps and games.

“For older children and teens, help them understand what’s appropriate and when to tell someone if they see something that doesn’t feel right. Work with them to review their privacy settings and passwords, and go through the process of reporting bad behaviour together.”

3. Remind them to always be kind

“While many online platforms are working hard to create safe spaces, unprotected spaces do exist, and teens often use these spaces to push boundaries. This freedom can sometimes bring about bad behaviour. Empower your child to report inappropriate behaviour and remind them that behind every avatar is a real person and they’re never anonymous, even when using an avatar or Gamertag. Teach them that kindness extends from the real world to the digital world.”

4. Know your kids’ digital hang-outs

“Spend time with your children online, get them to show you the apps and games they use, and maybe even have a go yourself. You could try swapping traditional family board game time for a video game; there are many multiplayer games you can play together – how about a racing tournament?

“A recent survey we commissioned found a promising 41% of parents are already playing video games with their kids, which is a good place to start for a unique opportunity to understand what they are experiencing online. But remember no good comes from snooping through other people’s online accounts without permission. If your kids think you don’t trust them, they’ll likely become more detached and distrustful, so speak honestly, and be present, but not nosy.”

5. Set rules around purchases

“Many games and platforms have options to spend money, and kids will want every new thing. If they are allowed some pocket money once a month, stick to it. Encourage them to prioritise what they really want, just as they might in real life.

“If you do allow the occasional purchase, adding and removing your payment details every time they buy something is time-consuming, and you run the risk of forgetting. To avoid giving your child unlimited access to your credit card or PayPal, it’s often possible to get them a gift card for a set amount, add a password requirement for online purchases, pre-approve their buys or receive an alert as they attempt to make one.”

Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto


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