Talking regularly with your child is the most powerful way to keep them safe online. Discussing what they are doing and making it part of an everyday conversation not only helps you to understand what they’re engaging with, but also signposts what you may need to talk about and why.
Luke Savage, online safety expert at NSPCC, agress. He says: “It can be difficult to know how to start talking to your child about their safety online, particularly when technology can move at an extraordinarily fast pace. Having regular conversations with them is one of the greatest tools to help keep them safe, and can help you to stay in touch with what is going on in the online world and what they are up to.”
Here's what you need to know to get the conversation started.
Why does online safety matter?
You would never let your child walk across the road without first explaining how to cross it safely, and even then, you would take them through the process over and over, highlighting different risks as they get older. Your aim is to constantly remind them to take care, pay attention and stay safe. The same applies to being online.
Online safety is the process of ensuring your child stays safe online no matter what their age or what they are doing. This means keeping them safe not just from people who might exploit them but from a wealth of issues, including exposure to illegal, inappropriate or harmful content, fake news, cyberbullying and putting themselves at risk of privacy and data breaches.
When to start having conversations around online safety?
From the moment your child starts using a device, it's important to talk about online safety in an age-appropriate way. Even young children can unwittingly expose themselves to things you don't want them to see – and download damaging software without realising what they are doing.
Right from the start, you need to talk to your child about never talking to anyone online who they don't know in real life, and never telling anyone their name or where they live.
Also, be clear about what they can and can't do online.
- Are they allowed on YouTube?
- Are they allowed to download/play games you haven't viewed? If you're unsure about a game, view it first and check out parent reviews online.
- Are they allowed a social media account?
- Can they buy things online?
Whichever way you decide to keep a check on their online viewing, be open and honest about what you will be doing and why. This will help create a culture of trust between you that works both ways.
Four main areas of online risk
With online safety there are four main areas of online risk for children:
- Content risks - content they may come across accidentally or that someone sends them that they may find upsetting, graphic and cruel.
- Contact risks - coming into contact with people they don't know, usually via gaming sites and social media, who try to befriend them.
- Conduct risks - acting in a way that hurts others or themselves.
- Contract risks - signing up for something or buying something that they don't understand is a scam, or makes them give away personal data.
To help your child combat these risks, here are 9 ways to bring online safety into your everyday conversations.
How to talk to children about keeping safe online
- Speak in a reassuring manner
Don't quiz them, have a conversation
Ensure you lead by example
Talk about the risks
Discuss what's sensible when posting content on social media
- Show an interest in their online activity
Educate them about privacy
Discuss ways to make online purchases safely
How to tackle difficult conversations about online safety
1. Speak in a reassuring manner
Talking about scary subjects and issues your child knows little about can be frightening, and turn them off devices so always speak in a way that reassures them that they are perfectly safe online, as long as they are careful. The digital world is part of the world, so the aim is to make them feel confident and safe.
2. Don't quiz them, have a conversation
No one likes being quizzed on what they are doing, but your child will open up to you if you have regular conversations about what they enjoy doing online. What's their favourite game? What makes them laugh? What is the best site to learn new things from?
3. Ensure you lead by example
Be sure to model whatever behaviours you set around online safety, including limiting screen time and boundaries around usage. Children learn as much from watching as they do from being told not to do something. As Luke Savage says, “Children get lots of messages about online safety in school and at home, but this can be confusing for them if the adults around them appear to not be following the advice they’re giving. Your children look to you for guidance, so it’s not just about what advice you give to them, but also what you do yourself. As a good role model for your child, make sure that you keep passwords safe, turn notifications off sometimes, talk about things you read online and think about what you’re sharing.”
4. Talk about the risks
Online risks change all the time, so be sure to have regular conversations with your kids about online scam risks, data and virus risks and grooming risks, again in an age-appropriate way.
“As children move through their teenage years, they are more prone to risk-taking and mood swings – and may become more reluctant to share things they feel embarrassed or ashamed about. So you need to think more carefully about how to approach online safety. For example, try to make the discussion relevant to them. If you know of a TV show or film that addresses the topic, like a character experiencing online bullying, you can use this as a conversation starter.”
Luke Savage, online safety expert, NSPCC
5. Discuss what's sensible when posting content on social media
Most teens know what they shouldn't be posting on social media, but do they know what's appropriate and what isn't? This is where conversations around selfies, written posts, videos, and opinions come into play. Discuss their digital footprint and how they must always think before they post anything, even a comment.
6. Show an interest in their online activity
It’s important to show a genuine interest in what they’re doing, not just in their online safety. Watching them build houses in Minecraft or play a game on Roblox may be a little mind-numbing, but it encourages your children to talk to you and lets them know you're interested. The same goes for older children; ask them to suggest people you can follow on Instagram or tell you what makes them laugh on TikTok. This can open the doors to a discussion.
7. Educate them about privacy
Kids need boundaries on what they should and shouldn't do, so ensure your child is aware of how their personal data might be collecte – whether they're on YouTube or playing on an app. Set security parameters on their app downloads, so they have to get your approval before downloading anything.
8. Discuss ways to make online purchases safely
One important area to discuss with kids and teens is online purchases. Firstly, make sure you switch off in-app purchases on all gaming apps on your child's device. This will stop them from racking up unexpected charges. Secondly, always sign out of marketplaces like Amazon and any site with your card attached. This prevents accidental purchases.
It’s also wise to talk to them about online advertising, ways in which they will be coaxed to buy, and how to spot a reputable site.
You can also sign them up for GoHenry's prepaid debit card for kids. This allows kids and teens to use their card online, with limits set by you. You will get an instant notification when your child makes a purchase online, and you are able to set spending rules and limits if you are worried about disreputable websites or overspending.
9. How to tackle difficult conversations about online safety
Kids don't always recognise what abuse is, so be sure to talk to them about how someone online can make them feel uncomfortable and afraid through language, what they send, as well as what they say. Get your child to listen to their gut, and if anything feels uncomfortable, to come to you. Reassure them that they won't get in trouble and that you are always there to help.
What can you do as a parent to help with online safety?
The best way to help with online safety as a parent is to stay informed of what's happening in your child's digital world. Which games are your child and their friends playing? Who are they watching, talking about and following on social media? What new app, or challenge do you need to know about, and which conversations do you need to have?
Other steps to take to keep your child safe online
Above all, help your child stay safe with parental controls. These will ensure that your child doesn’t find inappropriate content online by blocking certain types of websites or search terms. You can easily access parental controls on iPhones, iPads, and Android devices and controls from some internet service providers. You can learn much more about this in our dedicated blog section covering parental controls for many online services.
How to get help and advice when something happens
Sometimes, bad things happen. Your child might see something upsetting or feel like they have broken your rules and be too afraid to tell you. Always remind your children that they can talk to you about anything anytime. Reassure them that you won't get mad at them and will do anything you can to make them feel safe.
How GoHenry can help
Helping your child find the tools to navigate the online world means being ready to listen, reassure and take action when needed. It also means not being afraid to let them use devices and sites so they can build their confidence with your help. It’s why GoHenry has transparent parental controls to help your child build their financial confidence with online spending. Money Missions on the GoHenry app can also help them expand their financial education with quizzes and videos on everything from saving and investing to online scams.