Talking to your child about staying safe online

How to start the conversation with your child about staying safe online, and what to do if you're worried about online safety.

Talking to your child – openly, and regularly – is the best way to help keep them safe online.

You might find it helpful to start with a family discussion to set boundaries and agree what's appropriate. Or you might need a more specific conversation about an app or website your child wants to use or something you're worried about.

If you're not sure where to start then here's the advice you need – great ways to begin conversations to keep your child safe online. And you can always call our O2 and NSPCC online safety helpline for free expert advice. 

Explore sites and apps together

Talk about what might be OK for children of different ages. Ask your child what sites or apps they like. Write a list, and look at them together.

Be positive about what you see, but also be open about concerns you have: "I think this site's really good" or "I'm a little worried about things I've seen here".

Talk to your child about what you think is appropriate – but also involve them in the conversation. Ask what they think is OK for children of different ages – they'll feel involved in the decision-making.

Be aware that your child might talk about friends who use apps or visit sites that you've decided aren't suitable. Be ready to discuss your reasons, but recognise that they may not agree with you. Listen carefully for the reasons why.

Go through a final list of sites you both agree are OK, and work out when you'll next discuss it.

Get online safety advice

What parents need to know to help keep your child safe wherever and whenever they go online.

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Ask about things they might see online which make them feel uncomfortable

Talk about things they, or their friends, have seen that made them feel uncomfortable:

  1. Be specific. What exactly made them feel uncomfortable and why? Is it people or animals being hurt? Nasty comments about others?
  2. Link these to things in the real world, and explain that you're always here to protect and help them online and off.
  3. Reassure your child that they can always talk to you about anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
  4. Show them how to report or block on the sites and apps they use. Use Net Aware to find out how.
  5. Tell them you'll help them to report anything upsetting they've seen, or to deal with online bullying.

Talk about how they can stay safe on social networks

Ask your child if they know:

  • where reporting functions are
  • how to block someone
  • how to keep information private.

Show them how to do these things. Use Net Aware to help you.

Talk about online privacy, and being Share Aware. Explain that online behaviour – including sharing personal information – should mirror behaviour in person.

Explain that talking to strangers isn't always 'bad', but they should always be careful about what they share and sometimes people aren't who they say they are.

How safe are the sites, apps and games your child uses?

Net Aware keeps you up-to-date, with simple advice on what's new in social networking. We review privacy settings, suitable ages and appropriate content for over 50 sites.

Visit Net Aware

Reassure them that you won't overreact – you're just looking out for them

Explain that you understand the internet is a great place to be and that you're just looking out for them. Tell them they should speak up and not keep secrets if something is worrying them.

Reassure them that you're interested in all aspects of their life. Say that you'd like to talk about stuff they've seen online, sites and apps they visit, and that you'll share the things you've seen too. Recognise that they'll be using the internet to research homework, for example.

Be Share Aware: talk about what's OK, and not OK, to share online

Be Share Aware boy with mobile phoneTalk to your child about what 'personal information' is - such as email address, full name, phone number, address and school name - and why it's important.

Explain simple ways to protect privacy. For example, avoiding usernames like birthdates or locations that give away too much information.

Discuss images and photos, and what might be appropriate. Help your child understand how photographs can give people a sense of your personality, and that sharing the wrong kind of image can give the wrong impression.

Explain that it isn't easy to identify someone online. People aren't always who they say they are, so don't share personal information. If it's someone who genuinely knows your child, they shouldn't need to ask for personal information online.

Tell your child that if they're in any doubt they should talk to you first.

What to do if you're worried about your child online

There may be times when you're worried about your child's online safety. If you're unsure what to do, help is at hand.

We've put together some of the things that might be worrying you, and what you can do to help your child.

I'm worried my child is...

Talk to them about what they're sharing and if they know who has seen the pictures. Ask them if they'd be happy for someone – like a grandparent – to see the picture? Or if they think someone they admire, maybe their favourite celebrity, would share an image like that?

Explain that they should always think carefully about what they share. Once it's been sent, they can't control what happens to it. Discuss what sort of pictures are appropriate for them to share and not to share, and make sure they understand why.

Recognise that sometimes children share pictures for a dare, or as part of a joke. Remind them that once something's shared online, they can't manage who sees it or what happens next – even if it began as a joke.

Agree a safe way forward, such as checking what they're sharing for a while. Or ask an older sibling to check the photos before they're shared.

Suggest they download the ZipIt app to help them deal with requests for inapproriate photos.

Talk to your child about the things that they can safely share, like their interests and hobbies. And explain what counts as personal information, for example:

  • their full name
  • address
  • mobile number
  • email address
  • passwords.

Remind them they wouldn't share this information with people they didn't know in the real world.

They might be happy to share thoughts and feelings online with friends, but explain that they should be wary of doing this with strangers. Not everyone is who they say they are online, and sometimes things like your hopes and fears can be used against you by people you don't know.

If your child is worried they've shared too much, make sure you're able to help them if needed.

Our Net Aware guide to the social networks your kids use has links to information that will help you and your child, including how to:

  • remove content on different apps and sites
  • block people
  • report abuse

Ask open questions about what they have been looking at. But be prepared for the fact that they may not want to talk about it and might feel embarrassed.

If you're really worried about what they've been viewing, tell them why and make it clear that you don't want them to view it again.

You can also block the content by using parental controls and explain why you've done this. Suggest other age-appropriate sites where they can find out about sex and relationships. ChildLine has information that's suitable for children aged 9+, and the BBC has some clear, straightforward advice for young people.

If you're less worried and think they may be 'experimenting', talk to them about the differences between online porn and real sex, love and relationships.

Recognise that online bullying might be just one part of bullying that's happening in their day-to-day lives, and there might be a lot of underlying issues.

  • Reassure them that you can help to remove the content that's upsetting them and block the person who made the comments.
  • Look at the negative comments with them and contact the provider to get them removed.
  • Save the evidence by taking screen shots.
  • Contact their school to let them know about the incident, if you think it's appropriate.

Find out more about keeping your child safe from bullying and cyberbullying.

If your child has been bullying others online, find out whether other children were involved and what part your child played.

They may not have realised that what happened was bullying. Tell them explicitly that this behaviour isn't acceptable and the fact it's online doesn't mean it's not upsetting.

Help them understand how what they've done feels. You could ask them how they think the other child felt, or how they feel when someone says unkind things to them.

Explain that leaving someone out of an online discussion or group can be just as bad as attacking them directly. Encourage them to apologise to the person involved and help them to remove the content.

Agree what times your child can go online. For example, not going online just before bed time or in the morning before school.

Explain that you think it's important they do a variety of activities. You recognise that they enjoy being online, but you think it's important they do other things as well.

Discuss your family agreement and remind them why it's important. Use technical tools to help you reinforce online times. Many sites have timers that you can set, or you can set it up on the computer, mobile or tablet.

Make sure that you stick to what you've agreed and that you manage your own time online.

 

Free online safety workshops

Along with O2, we're holding free workshops to help parents learn how to keep children safe online. 

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Got a question?

Whether you want to set up parental controls, adjust privacy settings or get advice on social networks, experts from the O2 & NSPCC are here to help.

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