Top Tips for Parents: How to keep your child safe online

Jonathan Case 5 February 2024 4 min read

We are all by now fully aware that the internet can be a great source of information and a place for our children to hang out and play games online with friends. However, as parents, we must be aware of the internet's dangers to children. This includes the potential for bullying from their peers and targeting by perpetrators of sexual and criminal exploitation.

We also know that too much time spent alone in a room staring at a screen, gaming, or online chatting in a digital environment is not healthy either.

Children are confident accessing the internet using their phones, laptops, PCs, Macs and game consoles. Yet, as parents, we can feel overwhelmed by technology and feel our children are more IT and tech-savvy. Every parent will be familiar with the persuasive pressure children can exert on them to give more access to their devices, so it's an easy option to give in and allow unlimited access to avoid confrontation in our own busy lives.

However, as parents, we have a responsibility to take the time to follow some simple steps that will really help to protect our children. So, let's look at some strategies to overcome that pressure and how to implement age-appropriate restrictions effectively.

We have several options available to us. We'll take a look at how you can effectively implement strategies:

1. Talk to your child regularly about online dangers

You have to raise awareness about internet risks whilst not frightening your child. They need to know that online contact with unknown 'friends' is risky behaviour. It is also essential that your child knows what to do if things don't feel quite right. For example, if people they only know online engage them in video chats, ask them to upload photos or personal information, ask them to make financial payments or encourage them to meet up. It's important to stress that they should speak to you immediately if any of these situations occur.

The best way to achieve this is through open discussion, which may feel uncomfortable but is worth every second. A child dealing with an escalating online situation by themself must be avoided at all costs.

2. Removing the devices after an agreed time

OK, this is the tough one; we've all been there with the argument that usually follows this type of action. So here's some tips on how to approach this:

When setting time limits, explain that there is lots of evidence to show that too much online is unhealthy for physical or mental health. Everything in moderation! Don't allow your child to have access to their devices overnight; sleep is important.

Use distraction, engage in discussion and, if possible, in other activities such as walking, cycling, board games, etc. A fully engaged child in one of these activities will rarely think about going online. Remember, face-to-face, in-person conversation is a vital life skill we should promote wherever possible.

3. Restricting the devices themselves by using parental controls

Whilst this can lead to arguments and debate, implementing parental controls on the devices and platforms your child uses is a MUST, something every parent should take the time to do.

Parental control options you can set include:

  • Age restrictions
  • Site restrictions
  • Time limits
  • Categories of content
  • Financial transaction restrictions

All the leading platforms allow full parental controls to be implemented. This doesn’t take long and will make you feel far more confident that your child will be safer online. It is well worth the 10 minutes it will take!

Each platform provider details their bespoke way to set up your parental controls. As this changes frequently, we've created a list of links below so you can access the latest ways of setting up parental controls for each platform.

So why not take the opportunity and set them now?

4. Educate yourself and stay informed

Stay updated about the latest online platforms, apps, and trends. Understanding the digital landscape helps you guide your children effectively.

You can keep yourself informed about the latest online safety resources and tools by looking at Government websites, educational organisations, and reputable online safety groups, which can be valuable sources of information.

Use the links below to regularly review the latest trends and talk about them with your child.

5. Help develop digital literacy

Digital literacy is a fancy phrase, but it simply means finding, sorting, evaluating, managing and creating information in digital forms.

You can help build your children's digital literacy skills by teaching them how to critically question online content, identify misinformation, and understand the implications of their online actions.

They must understand that not everything they see and read online is true!

6. How to behave online

Too often, people's behaviour differs from how they interact face to face. Here are some tips to help your child develop positive online behaviour:

  • Think before they post. Ask themself if their comment is constructive before they post.
  • Don’t hide behind their profile picture. Social media is not anonymous. Their online reputation will stay with them for a long time. Teach them, ‘If you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, don’t say it to them online.’
  • Give themself a ‘rule’ about who they connect with on social media and who they do not. For example, if they would stop and say hi to them on the street, they could add them as a Facebook friend. This helps to demonstrate boundaries in the online world.
  • Find topics your family is interested in and talk about them. Take the conversation online by commenting on a group or page about the topic, and show your children how to connect with others safely and respectfully on issues they care about.
  • Demonstrate respectful conversations online. Show your child that some people may have different opinions to them. Treat people with the same respect they would give them face-to-face and report troll-like or bullying behaviour instead of engaging with it.

7. Know how to report and block

Show your children how to report inappropriate content or interactions and encourage them to block users who make them uncomfortable. It is important young people know they are not alone if they experience cyberbullying. Whether support is provided by you, teaching staff, their friends or a support line, they need to know that help is always available.

Here are some useful links to the parental control areas for the main Internet/Platform/App/Mobile/Games providers:

This list is not exhaustive. Just search for Parental Controls from your chosen provider and you should be able to follow a clear set of instructions.

Jonathan Case

BSc (Hons) Env Health

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