Stay safe online: a handy parent guide

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The internet: home of vast quantities of information and imagery at the click of a button. It has its many benefits of course but in this growing digital age, where many people have easy access to the web and social media platforms through personal tech, it has given rise to many children getting on the bandwagon too.

According to a report, published in February 2020, by Ofcom, the UKs communications regulator, parents and carers are giving their children greater digital independence from a younger age. The same report however also found that, for the first time, more parents feel the risks outweigh the benefits of their child being online, with two million reporting that the Internet does children more harm than good.

In my own experience, I have spoken to many parents who have expressed concerns about their child using the Internet, social media platforms in particular. It has also become apparent that many parents want to keep an eye on what their child is doing online and support them but don’t really know how to go about it; many ask what they need to do to help their child stay safe online, whether it’s simply browsing the net or using social media. With that in mind, here are five top pointers which will hopefully help you if you find yourself in that particular boat:

Talk about it:

Talking to your child about their internet habits should, ideally, be as a common as asking how their school day has been. Showing a genuine interest in what your child regularly accesses online and the social media they use will make it much easier for them to approach you with any concerns or worries they may have regarding content displayed or even messages they may receive as they know you are interested in what they are doing.

Opening up that dialogue with your child on a regular basis may seem somewhat daunting at first, but it does help prevent their web usage becoming a ‘taboo’ subject. Discuss the pros and cons of using specific sites and social media platforms and listen to your child when they give justifications of why they may want to access a particular site. By offering them the opportunity to give their insight, your child will feel more involved in the decision making process when it comes to what they may or may not be able to access.

What are you looking at?:

Now that you know more about your child’s internet habits through conversation, it would be prudent to retain an interest and keep a watchful eye on what they’re accessing. A study by Dublin University found in recent times that as little as 18% of parents actively monitor what their child is accessing.

Where possible, it’s good to have even private devices, whether it’s a phone, tablet or laptop in more accessible areas of the house where they are visible. This isn’t always going to be possible, so a good parental control system on your home Internet may also help restrict your child viewing content you may not deem suitable for their age.

It’s not uncommon for parents to ‘follow’ their children on social media, though it’s generally best to discuss this approach with your child and highlight in any case that any approach you take to monitoring  is for their safety and not to ‘spy’ on what they are doing.

Look familiar?:

Some parents find monitoring their child’s Internet or social media use a real struggle, sometimes because they don’t know too much about what the child is viewing and accessing themselves. As already suggested, talking with your child can highlight their online favourites and habits, however it would be sensible for you to know how things work too, so you feel more empowered and in a position to help and understand if your child talks to you about something online.

You can do some research into what your child regularly accesses or uses. For example, if they use a social media app, learn how it operates and how it can be used. Gain an understanding of what your child may be exposed to on certain sites to help decide whether your child can access it or not. Pay particular attention to how to report content that you or your child may find concerning.

Keep it private:

According to Internet Matters, a nonprofit organisation established to help parents keep their children safe online, as many as 60% of a child’s online friends are not ‘real’ friends offline. Encourage your child not to share too much personal information as, in a lot of cases, it could be viewed by others who aren’t particularly close to your child.

This is particularly relevant to social media platforms. Each platform will have different and varied privacy settings to help keep your child safe and restrict the access a stranger may have to their account. Research how to ‘lock down’ your child’s social media profiles, perhaps even discuss and do this together to help.

More and more young people are sharing their social media passwords with others they deem friends. Encourage your child to not give out their passwords as it could potentially leave them open to significant consequences should posts be made by others accessing their accounts.

Be a role model:

Like many other aspects of life, you will no doubt look to model behaviours you expect your child to follow. The same can be said for your own Internet and social media use as a parent. By posting online things that you deem acceptable, it will help your child understand the types of things they may be able to post online and comment on too. Talking regularly about thinking of consequences before making a post can also help prevent your child post something that may not generally be acceptable and offensive to others.