An Introduction to Online Safety for Parents

A young child reaching up to a laptop

The rise of the internet age and social media has offered people many opportunities. We now have a seemingly infinite amount of knowledge at our fingertips. We can connect with friends and family around the world at a moment’s notice. Our families are learning and growing every day – with the internet entwined deeply in our lives. Children are a big part of this, and children as young as toddlers understand how to use tablets, phones and computers in a limited way. My son is not yet three, but he understands how to call grandpa or nana on FaceTime. Children who are six can have a grasp of apps and technology that is far beyond their years.

The Dangers of the Internet

The internet can be an amazing place full of information, communication, education and entertainment. The internet can also be a dark place where predators can lurk. It can provide dangerous knowledge. It can also be a distraction or an addiction when misused. As adults, we can plunge into the abyss and make our decisions about what is good and what should be avoided – but kids can’t make that decision for themselves.

As a parent, it will be up to you to police your children’s internet usage until they’re old enough to take responsibility themselves. As someone who has been using the internet since it’s infancy, who has a wide amount of experience with technology, websites, platforms and software – and as a parent – I’ve written this introduction to online safety for parents to help you start to make informed decisions about online safety.

A child stares into the distance with the blue light of a tablet screen in front of him

Setting Rules and Boundaries

Have clear rules such as what Apps can be used, who can be added as a friend, what websites can be visited, how much time can be spent online and so on.

Explain to your children why you are setting these rules and boundaries. Not just “You can’t accept friend invites because I said so”, but “It’s dangerous to accept invites online from strangers. It’s like talking to a stranger in the street – you wouldn’t do that, would you? People online can be bad people too. If anyone adds you to social media (or an app that’s being discussed) and you don’t know exactly who they are, you need to come and chat to me first.”

It’s important to get across from an early age that online isn’t some mystical invisible environment where everything disappears. It’s real, even if we can’t physically see it. If your kids know not to do anything online that they wouldn’t do in real life it provides a good foundation for understanding potential dangers.

You don’t have to go into the details of exactly what bad people will do, but you do need to make your child understand that the internet has dangers just like the real world. For example, you might teach your child to look both ways before crossing the street, but did you think to teach them never to open an email attachment unless they are expecting it and know what it is? There are lots of new things to think about!

Parental Controls

There are a wealth of parental controls available on phones, tablets and computers. It’s important that you spend the time researching the tools available to you as a parent. Most environments can be controlled if you take the time to figure it out, keep an open mind and do plenty of research. Don’t blanket ban things though, as this can be unreasonable and ban the good with the bad. You need to investigate usage and control fairly. In my experience if you simply tell kids no then it can make them want to do something all the more!

Educate yourself about Apps and their content

There are constantly new Apps popping up and going forward I think the modern parent needs to get on top of things.

For example a friend recently told me her 8 year old had sent her a message on SnapChat. I asked her if she was aware the terms of use of SnapChat listed 13 as a minimum age, with under 18 requiring parental permission. She didn’t know, because she’d never read the terms of use (who has time for that? but you can also get a synopsis by googling). She also didn’t know that snapchat accesses the address book, meaning this app now had access to her 8 year old daughter’s entire list of classmates, friends and family. It’s important that we, as parents, fully understand what our kids are using so we can make an informed decision about it.

Some common apps your kids might be using which can potentially pose online dangers are:

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

SnapChat

TikTok

Discord

I’m the “tech mum” in my circle and I am often amazed at how little some of my friends know about the world that their kids are delving into.

The CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) website  offers further information for a variety of age ranges that provides information for you and age-appropriate ways of explaining how to be safe online.

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