Five tips for talking about online safety with young children

06 Jul 2021 Becca Cawthorne

Young people of all ages enjoy using the internet; playing online games; video calling; and using streaming services, and are doing so at a younger age than ever before.

Whatever their stage of development, it is important that any child using the internet understands what to do and who to talk to when they need help. This blog from Childnet  gives parents and carers five top tips about how and when to start sharing online safety messages with younger children. 

The best time to talk to your children about the internet is when they are using it. Going online together, and engaging with your child’s favourite sites and services, provides the perfect opportunity to start a discussion, in a relevant context. Below are our five top tips to get you started:

1) Play games together

Children love to do things together as a family, and this includes using the internet! Playing your child’s favourite games together will not only help you understand why they like playing, it is also a great way to point out and explain any in-game safety features that are available. Even if your child is too young to report to a moderator in the game, block another player, or flag a comment that might be mean, you can highlight what these options do, and why they may need to use them.

2) Read together

Reading with young children provides a great opportunity to talk to them and explore what they already know and understand. Sharing our Learning to Read book together, is a lovely way to start a conversation around what you can do online, and what to do if you need help. Our series of Digiduck stories also cover a range of online safety themes, in an age-appropriate and sensitive way.

3) Explore the online world together

Use child friendly search engines or ensure that safe-search settings are applied when you are looking for information online. If your child’s favourite phrase is “Google it!” then this is a great time to model safe searching. Explain what you are doing, as you do it. You can talk about carefully typing in what you are looking for and being as specific as possible; choosing search results from trusted sources; or visiting trusted websites first. When talking to your child about going online it is key to reiterate what to do if your child see something that upsets you them, this could include turning the device over straight away and getting an adult to help.

4) Watch shows and films online together

Whether you are watching programmes on a children’s TV channel on demand, or through a ‘kids’ profile you’ve created on a streaming service, viewing through a dedicated children’s app or account can help ensure that only TV and movie content for children is displayed or can be searched for. We have created guidance on the settings you can put in place on Disney+ and Netflix. Explain to your child that these are their own special apps and profiles to use. If they know how to use the remote control, they’ll be able to go straight to their own dedicated content when watching more independently!

5) Laugh together

From cute animals to cartoons, children love funny videos! If you are watching videos online that have created by members of the public, then using a child-friendly video streaming app such as YouTube Kids is a good place to start. Within these apps, you may be able to choose the content or channels that are displayed and are often able to turn off the search function. These services are user-moderated however, and no filters are fool proof. Watching videos together is the perfect time to stop and talk about what you might do if a video turned out to be upsetting or scary, this could be for them to turn the device over and tell an adult straight away.

If you have a young child who is just starting out on their internet journey, you are in the fortunate position of being able to establish your expectations from day one. Of course, not all decisions you make need to be explained to your children, as they may not be age-appropriate, however there is lots that you can talk about from the outset.

Creating a family agreement is great way to set out your family’s rules when it comes to use of the internet and technology, and it is important to involve every child in this process. You might include things like your screen time expectations, the importance of observing age ratings, using devices with an adult or within sight of an adult, or making sure that an adult has approved the videos that you are watching etc.

For children of any age, the most important piece of advice that you can give is, “Tell someone.” Ensure that your children know they can come and tell you straight away if they see or hear anything online that worries, upsets, confuses, or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way – and that they won’t ever be ‘in trouble’ for telling you, even if they have clicked something that you would rather they hadn’t. 

As soon as your child shows an interest in engaging with technology, it’s time to begin sharing simple online safety strategies with them. The best tool a child can have is education, so it’s never too early to start a conversation!  

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