Back to School – 10 tips to keep your child safe online

We live in a world where kids are truly adept at using technology. From smartphones and apps, to tablets, desktops and laptops, if it has a screen, chances are your kid knows how to use it.

But there are risks and dangers of letting children go online.

Firstly, parents need to be aware that children can view inappropriate content including pornography relatively easily. Secondly, children are smart, and can easily click-through and ignore age restrictions on adult content.

More seriously is the possibility that children talk to or “friend” people they don’t know. This opens up vulnerabilities to bullying, grooming, and sharing personal information.

So what can parents do to teach their kids some tips so that they browse online and use apps safely? Here are some tips:

  1. Talking to your child is one of the first and best ways to keep them safe. You should not ignore the possibility of something bad happening because it might be an awkward conversation, or you think your child “wouldn’t do something like that”.
  2. Set up parental controls on social networks, online games and browsers. This should also be repeated on the hardware they use including smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops. You can even turn on settings in your router and ask your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to turn on adult content filtering
  3. Set some ground rules. You can discuss and come to an agreement about the amount of time they can spend online, when they go online, and the websites and apps they visit.
  4. Discuss the risks involved in sharing personal information including photos. Children should keep their privacy settings on maximum so that they don’t inadvertently share any details with strangers. Kids also need to understand that sharing a photo with a friend is not private, and can quickly be sent around a school, and even end up in the public domain.
  5. Take an interest in what they spend their time doing online, so you can offer tips and guide them away from anything harmful.
  6. Preventing your child from going online or using mobile phones will not keep them safe in future, as they need to learn how to stay safe now. You should encourage your child to speak to you if they ever have any questions about something they’re seen, or something that makes them feel uncomfortable.
  7. Explain that it is very easy for people to lie about themselves online, and make up details such as their age. So children must be very careful about accepting friend requests from people they, or their friends, don’t know.
  8. Teach your child how to respect people online. Just as people can lie about themselves, they can also hide behind the screen and say very mean and hurtful things. You should discuss how to treat people they talk to, and not say anything they wouldn’t say to that person’s face.
  9. Public Wi-Fi often does not have parental controls enabled, and could result in your child viewing inappropriate content. You should teach them that Public Wi-Fi is less safe than your home or school network, as data can often be intercepted, and login details stolen. As such kids should avoid using them and stick to their mobile date connection.
  10. Bullying also happens online. It can take the form of receiving threatening or abusive messages, being shamed or trolled by bullies creating and sharing embarrassing images or videos, being excluded from online games, activities or friendship groups, and having hate sites or groups set-up. It can even go as far as encouraging young people to self-harm and creating fake accounts, hijacking or stealing online identities to embarrass or cause trouble in the victim’s name.

If you think your child is the victim of cyberbullying, your child shouldn’t respond to or forward the messages. You should keep the evidence of cyberbullying, and record the dates, times, and descriptions of instances when cyberbullying occurred. Parents should save and print screenshots, emails, and text messages, and use this evidence to report cyberbullying to mobile network providers and the social media websites where the abused happened. The victim should also immediately block the cyberbully. The school of the bully should also be made aware of what is going on.

It can seem difficult to strike the right balance between keeping an eye on your child and giving them the independence and freedom to explore, but hopefully these tips will help you build trust with your child that they are going online safely.