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Having an open and honest conversation about online safety – 5 questions for parents

In this blog from Childnet, a Partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre, Education Officer Phoebe looks at the ways you can start a conversation about online safety with your family.

Through my role as an Education Officer, I spend most of my week in schools across the country talking to children, young people, staff and parents about online safety. At Childnet our main message for parents is to take the time and speak with your child about the games and services they like online. By engaging with your child and having an open dialogue about online safety, even if they are still young, we hope that your child will be more likely to come to you if they have a problem with something online in the future.

With that in mind I’ve put together five questions for you to think about as a parent, and five questions for you to ask your child. Having an open and honest conversation is key and I hope that the following questions might help you to begin that conversation around online safety as a family.

5 questions for Parents

  1. When was the last time you had a conversation with your child about going online?
    Talking regularly with your child about how they use technology can help you to find out what their digital life is like, including what their favourite sites and services are and also how being online makes them feel. It’s always helpful to have these chats when new devices are introduced, e.g. a tablet for Christmas or a new phone for their birthday.
    Not sure where to begin? Along with the questions for you children in this blog have a look at our suggested conversation starters for parents and carers.
  2. Are you aware of the available safety tools?
    There are lots of tools available to help you manage the devices used by your family. For example, knowing how to activate and use parental controls can help protect your child from seeing inappropriate content online. Setting your Wi-Fi to only be available between certain hours of the day can limit your child’s usage, and disabling features such as geo-location or in-app purchases on your child’s phone can prevent them sharing their exact location or stop an unexpected bill.
    For advice and guidance on how to make use of parental controls and other safety features on devices, check out our free Parents’ Guide to Technology.
  3. Does your child know more about the internet than you do?
    If the answer is yes then don’t panic! We often hear from parents that they feel overwhelmed with the amount of games and apps available. Try not to focus too much on the mechanics of a game or app, instead focus on the behaviour of your child or the risks involved as these will run across different platforms and devices. Your child can always talk you through and be the expert in the specific services they use, but you are the expert in keeping them safe.
    We have a series of hot topics which can help you understand the key online risks or you can visit NetAware to learn more about risks on specific platforms.
  4. Have you set clear expectations or boundaries?
    The online world is an increasingly large part of modern family life, so it makes sense to approach it as a family too. Why not make a pledge together on how as a family you’re going to use the internet safely and positively? This will ensure children are aware of the boundaries set in place and also means they know what to do if something goes wrong. If you need help with this, have a look at our family agreement for a great way to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
  5. Do you know how to access support if you’re worried about your child’s online usage?
    Try not to overreact to potentially risky online situations, instead be curious not furious. If you become aware of something your child is accessing online then try to establish the reason they have found themselves looking at that content. Was it that they accidentally clicked on an advertisement on the screen, was it that they misspelt a web address which then took them to another website or did they hear a word in the playground and purposely typed it into a search engine?
    If you want further help around the content your child is accessing you can get support from your child’s school or contact a parent’s support helpline;
    NSPCC and O2 - for help and support with parental controls or social media concerns – 0808 800 5002
    Family Lives - for help and support with all aspects of family life – 0808 800 2222
    YoungMinds  - for help and support with mental health and wellbeing – 0808 802 5544

5 questions to ask your child

  1. What is your favourite thing to do online? Can you show me how your favourite game works?
    The internet is an amazing place and provides endless opportunities to communicate with others, be creative, find new things out and have fun through games and apps. Children use the internet in different ways so start a conversation with your child around their online usage, remember often many of the problems we experience online are down to human behaviour and not the service itself.  
  2. What does your digital footprint say about you?
    Your digital footprint is anything that you publically post online about yourself, any anything that somebody else publically posts about you. The easiest way to find out your digital footprint is to search for yourself online. Children are forming their digital footprints younger and younger as it’s almost impossible not to have one and the content which they are posting could potentially stay online forever. Encourage your child to think about what their images and videos say about them; are they happy with the story they are telling? How would someone perceive them now and in the future based on their posts and comments? Ensure your child knows how important it is to post positively and respectfully about themselves and others whilst online and encourage them to create and manage a positive digital footprint.
  3. Can you trust everything and everyone on the internet?
    Don’t be fooled… not everything or everyone online can be trusted.
    We tell children information isn’t put up online by computers, or by robots, but by people, and people can make mistakes. Things go out of date and people can put information online to deliberately mislead. In the current climate, the issue of fake news is a big area to contend with so critical learning is key for us all, especially children who need to be armed with the skills to find reliable and trustworthy information. Before believing everything they read online prompt them to think carefully about where it comes from, who’s written it and whether you can find a similar message on 2 other trusted websites.
    It is important to remember that not everyone is who they say they are online so remind you child never to agree to meet up with someone they only know online. No matter how friendly they might seem or how well they think they know them, they are still a stranger. Remind them to always tell you or a trusted adult if someone asks to meet up.
  4. What would you do if you saw or heard something upsetting or worrying online?
    Remind you child that the most important thing is to tell an adult. Taking a screen shot is also helpful as it means you can clearly see first-hand the problem.  Explore the report and block buttons together on varying apps and games and reinforce the importance of not retaliating.  If you want to know more about the safety tools on social media then take a look at the social media guides.
  5. How do you know when you’ve had enough?
    Being online can be great – there are so many fun and exciting things to do! But being connected all the time isn’t always a good thing.  Tell your child to look out for the signs their body and device might be giving them. This could be having sore eyes or neck or feeling hungry and thirsty. Your battery might even run out or over-heat. Our advice would be to have a healthy balance between online and offline activity, take plenty of breaks, talk to someone if you need help managing your online usage and use the device settings available to you, e.g. the ‘do not disturb’ or ‘night time’ settings.