Want To Talk About It? Advice for Parents on Talking About Online Safety

For children and young adults living in today’s world, online life is life. Because of this there may be risks that young people are exposed to without realising it. Talking regularly with your child on the subject of internet safety is the greatest way to help keep them safe, make it part of regular conversation, just like you would when finding out how their day was at school, this will encourage the topic of conversation to be normal.

Talking to children about staying safe on the internet can be very overwhelming for parents. There are multiple different technologies, apps, and websites targeting children and young adults for their attention. So, it can be difficult to know where to start, especially if you are not confident with IT yourself. 

When discussing online safety its best to remember the risks, what we wish to protect children from and the age-appropriate conversation topics. You don’t necessarily need to know how each technology works just what should be protected and how to converse on these topics so that your child understands.

The Online Safety Alliance (OSA) break this down into “The four C’s of online Safety”:

Content – What type of content am I being exposed to, is it Illegal, inappropriate or harmful?

Contact – Am I confident who I’m speaking with are who they say they are?  

Conduct – Does my personal behaviour online increase the likelihood of or cause harm? For example making, sending or receiving explicit images, sharing of other explicit content and online bullying.

Commerce – Risks around financial scams, phishing, inappropriate advertisement or online gambling.

To be able to effectively communicate consider how the child may feel talking about online safety:

  • Discomfort or embarrassment about something they have said online.
  • Shame or fear if they're worried about something they have seen or done.
  • Annoyance or confusion if they don’t understand something.
  • Happiness because they have received validation for what they’ve posted – such as likes or follows.

Being able to have conversations with your child can give you insights into their online activities which in turn will allow you to consider:

  • Do I need to implement Parental Controls?
  • Are the Games/Apps/Videos my child is using appropriate for their age?
  • Does my child understand safety and privacy features available to them within the technology or app?

Be a Good Digital Role Model:

Children receive online safety information at school, but it can be confusing if what they are being told is contradicted when they see adults around them not following best practices, so brushing up on your own digital safety is also very important. Here are some initial digital safety tips for parents to follow: 

  • Keep your passwords safe. Do not share, write down or reuse passwords, talk to your child to explain that passwords are private and should not be shared.
  • Turn off notifications from time to time. It’s good to take a break from technology so that we are not distracted, for example when assisting with homework disable notifications on your technology devices.
  • Talk about what you see online. There has been a very large increase in fake and false information online, feel confident in questioning something you read online (if age appropriate) to show that not everything you read online is always the truth.
  • Think about what you are sharing. We tell children to be safe online and not to share personal information, but sometimes contradict ourselves, for example telling your child not to share pictures online of themselves, but on the first day of school taking a photo and sharing it on social media. In these instances explaining privacy settings and how you are sharing the content and with whom is beneficial, explaining that you are sharing this image only with family. However, if your child expresses they would not like this image shared then it is important to respect their feelings and not share the image, teaching them they are in control over what is shared online.

If you are worried about your child and need any further advice you can talk to a trained helpline counsellor form the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000.

Further Information:

OSA four C’s of online safety 

NSPCC advice on Parental Controls 

According to a Google Survey, cyberbullying is teacher’s number one safety concern in the classroom. If you are worried about a child in your class then read this article on how to help a child that is being bullied

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