When we think about the stranger danger we were taught at school, danger for children today is so very different. Strangers don’t look like strangers. Online, offenders can be whoever they need to be, a nine year old boy, an 18 year old friend of a friend.
Teaching children how to navigate the online world should mirror road safety – equip them with the rules, help them understand how it works and hold their hand for the first few years whilst they are still vulnerable to harms they couldn’t see for themselves.
Protection not punishment
An important aspect of how you talk to children and frame the limitations you place on their devices is that they understand you are trying to protect them, not punish them. If they feel that it is a punitive approach and don’t understand the reason, they might be more tempted to seek out access other ways, through their friends or at school.
Having early conversations with children about the risks that come with the internet, social media and video games means that when they take on more responsibility, such as owning a mobile phone it doesn’t come as a huge shock.
It’s really important to balance your conversations with a recognition that this is a really exciting, positive experience in your child’s life. So as well as talking about what protections you need to put in place, share in their excitement.
Conversations could be around:
Putting controls on what your child can search online limits the possibility of inappropriate content appearing in the results. SafeSearch on Google is a good example of this and setting up YouTube kids removes the majority of adult content . Explain to your child that it is because sometimes they might see something that is meant for adults. Helping children to understand this, and to talk to you if they see something they don’t feel comfortable with or don’t understand can be the start of an ongoing conversation between you and your child where they know the internet and gaming can be enjoyed with caution and care.
Talking to people they don’t know online – explain why you have to make the privacy settings to private on their video game because it can be unsafe to talk to people you don’t know online.
Giving your child their first mobile phone
Before you give your child a phone, set aside time to read up about how you put the controls and safety measures in place. Practice on your own phone, or ask a friend to show you how to do it. If you buy a mobile phone at a shop, the sales advisers will be able to show you how to put these in place:
- Set up location sharing
- Set up safe search on their search engine
- Agree which social media sites they can go on (age recommendations are there for a reason) and make sure you have limited their profile only to friends
- Talk to them about sharing photos of themselves and other people
- Set up an app management tool such as Google Home which allows you to have control over what apps your child downloads
- Regularly check their phone. Unannounced checking of their phone is a really good way of providing them with a safety net in those early years. This includes their photos, emails, messages and apps. This may feel like an intrusion, but if you explain to your child from the beginning that if they are going to have a phone, this is what you need to do to keep them safe – then those boundaries are there from the outset
- Don’t let your children connect with, or make friends with anyone they haven’t met in real life. This very simple rule is easy for children to understand and in no way limits their ability to interact with, and enjoy the benefits that technology can bring to their lives. When you check their phone, ask them about who each of their contacts are if you don’t recognise them
- Encourage your child to talk to you if they have seen something they don’t understand, or don’t feel comfortable with.
Again, implementing rules when the phone is introduced means it becomes habitual.
Agree a time that the phone will be taken away from the child in the evening, 6pm for example. Once the child becomes older, you can be a little more flexible, but it is easier to take away rules than implement them when they have already enjoyed the freedom.
Ask the Awkward has some great advice about talking openly with your child about their online relationships.
First in a million is a film for 11-13 year olds about the impact of sharing inappropriate images
Internet Matters and Ineque both have really useful guides for setting controls, setting up new devices and talking to your child.
Internet Watch Foundation provides a take-down service for reporting inappropriate content