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How to help your child stay safe online

Tips, controls and conversations to help keep children safe on the internet and social networks

As a parent, you need to talk to your child about how they can stay safe online, set rules about what they can do and agree boundaries of how they should behave.

You can also use parental controls on social networks, online games and browsers or software that can filter or monitor what your child can see.

Preventing your children from using the internet or mobile phones will not keep them safe online, so it's important to have conversations that help your child understand how to stay safe and what to do if they ever feel scared or uncomfortable.

Have the conversation early and often

Children and young people spend an average of 12 hours a week online. You should start talking to your child about keeping safe online at an early age.

It's easier to have conversations about online safety little and often, rather than trying to cover everything at once.

As your children get older, and technology changes, make sure you continue talking about what they are doing online and how to stay safe.

Ask your child what they do online

To help you understand what they are doing online, start by asking your child:

  • which websites do you enjoy spending time on?
  • what are the best things to do on these websites?
  • which websites would you recommend for a friend?
  • what is your favourite game?
  • who do you play games with?

Let your child teach you how to use social networks and games

Your child may know more than you about being online, but you can use that to help you understand what they are doing and what controls to put in place.

Children often enjoy showing their parents what they know and have achieved, and it gives you a way to support and encourage them while learning what they know.

Ways your child can help you

Give tips on how they would tell friends or other children to stay safe online
You can follow up with questions like:

  • where did you learn these?
  • what would you do if they were worried about anything?

Help you set up a profile on one of their favourite websites
This will give you the opportunity to ask lots of questions like 'what does that mean?' or 'why did you choose that option?'

You can also check if there are any safety features and if your child knows how to use them.

Tell you about a friend or family member that they are 'friends' with through social networking
If they are 'friends' with a family member or someone that you both know, ask your child how they are.

Use it as a way to ask further questions about how your child communicates online.

Play a game with you online
This will help you understand how the game works, if it's appropriate for their age and how they can communicate with other players.

Know who your child is talking to online

Children don't think of people they've met online through social networking and online games as strangers, they are just online friends.

So it's important to monitor who your child is talking to. Ask them:

  • who do you know that has the most online friends?
  • how can they know so many people?
  • how do they choose who to become friends with online?

Explain to your child that it is easy for people to lie about themselves online, like their age for example, because you have never met them.

Agree your child will 'friend' a trusted adult on their social networks or online games

You can also become 'friends' with your child so you can see their profile and posts.

Your child may not want to 'friend' you, especially as they get older, but agree with them that they can 'friend' a trusted adult like a 'cool' aunt or uncle who can feedback any worrying or upsetting behaviour.

Set rules and agree boundaries

Establish and explain what the rules are for your child being online. These will depend on your child's age and what you feel is appropriate, but give guidance on:

  • the amount of time they can spend online
  • the time of day they can go online
  • the websites they can visit or activities they can take part in
  • sharing images and videos
  • how to behave online respectfully and to not post anything they wouldn't say face to face

If your child plays online games:

  • check the age rating of all games before they play
  • make sure you know who they are playing with and how much information they are sharing with other players
  • negotiate the amount of time your child spends playing online games to avoid addiction

Make sure that content is age-appropriate

You know your child best, so check that the websites, social networks and games they are using are suitable for them and their age.

Check that your browser's homepage (the page that you see when you open an internet window) is set to a website that is suitable for your child to see.

Online games, movies and some websites will also have an age rating or minimum age to sign up. Tell your child to speak to you first before registering on a website or social networking sites like Facebook.

Age limits are an important safety measure. You shouldn't feel pressurised into letting your child sign up or use websites that you feel they are too young for.

Use parental and privacy controls

Parental controls can help you control what your child can access online, and privacy controls ensure that information stays private.

No tool is 100% effective and should not replace conversations with your child.

Use parental controls to filter, restrict, monitor or report content

You can set up parental controls to prevent your child from seeing inappropriate or harmful content online:

  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Virgin Media, TalkTalk, Sky or BT, provide controls to help you filter or restrict content.
  • laptops, phones, tablets, games consoles and other devices that connect to the internet will have settings to activate parental controls.
  • software packages are available, some for free, that can help you filter, restrict or monitor what your child can see online.

Remember that if your child goes online away from home, the same controls might not be in place at other people's houses or on public Wi-Fi.

Agree with your child how they will use public Wi-Fi or let other parents know what your child is or isn't allowed to do online.

Find out more about parental controls or how to set them up.

Make sure your child's privacy is protected

Check the privacy settings on any online accounts your child has, for example on Facebook or games, and remind your child to keep their personal information private.

Make sure that there are appropriate security settings in place on any websites that use your child's personal details.

Apply controls that are right for your child's age

As your child gets older you can change the level of control that you use.

If your child asks you to remove the controls completely, and you are happy to do so, agree with them in advance what behaviour is acceptable online.

Check your child knows how to use reporting tools

Explain to your child what to do if they see content or are contacted by someone who worries or upsets them. Ensure they know how to use tools to report abuse:

Where to get further help and advice

If you're worried about your child or you need advice contact the NSPCC's helpline on 0808 800 5000 to speak to one of our trained counsellors.

If you feel your child does not want to talk to you or another adult they know, you can suggest they call ChildLine, in confidence on 0800 1111.

You may also be interested in our other advice for parents:

Online safety: what parents need to know



Online safety checklists

These checklists provide a quick reference guide to help you talk to your child about keeping safe online.

Download tips to help keep your child safe online
(PDF, 139KB)

Download checklist for under fives
(PDF, 96KB)

Download checklist for primary school children
(PDF, 109KB)

Download checklist for teenagers
(PDF, 101KB)

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