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How can I Keep my Child Safe Online?

The internet is a great educational tool but it comes with hidden dangers. If you don’t keep your eye on them, children may be exposed to inappropriate material. You can protect them and help them take responsibility for their own safety

Parent supervising his daughter onlineThe internet is a great educational tool, providing information for homework and learning as well as advice – but it comes with hidden dangers. If you don’t keep your eye on them, children may be exposed to inappropriate material, or lured into chatting with strangers. You can protect them from many influences, but your child will need to take responsibility for their own safety as they grow and become more independent. This guide gives you some brief pointers on how to keep your child safe online.

How much time do children spend online?

Research shows that, on average, children spend over 6 hours a day on computers, smartphones, watching TV or playing video games. Another report showed that, even in 2013, 57% of 3-17 year olds used the internet at home, compared with only 11% in 1997. With the upsurge in mobile and wearable devices, the time children spend online is increasing.

New government measures set in 2015 ensure that all schools use effective safety filters, and that children are educated about online threats. As parents, you will also want to protect your child, so here are some useful tips for online safety.

How can I supervise my child when they are online?

It’s a good idea to supervise young children’s internet time, partly to learn subjects together but also to learn about the internet – good and bad. Make browsing a positive experience but offer warnings too, and encourage them to talk to you about what they are doing. Always set clear boundaries. So, how can you supervise them? Ideally, the PC or laptop should be used in an open family area where you can keep an eye on what your child is doing. That way you’ll be on hand to help them with homework, and there is less chance of them connecting to unsavoury sites. Many children prefer to study in silence though, so being surrounded by family may not help their learning. Phones and tablets mean internet access is available almost everywhere.

How should I use parental controls?

Most internet providers have parental controls. You can use these so that children are blocked from:

  • accessing certain websites
  • searching for keywords that may lead to inappropriate material
  • accessing social media sites, preventing people from contacting them online

Older children may complain that these restrictions stop them from accessing sites they need for homework and from talking to their friends. If you’re open to wider access, create a ‘Safe List’ of specific websites you will allow them to access – but teach them safety guidelines first.

Encourage them to tell you if a website appears onscreen accidentally. If unsuitable, add it to the filter list.

Some internet providers have ‘Broadband Shields’, enabling you to block websites based on daytime/evening access (see Safer Internet). You can set a security rating that matches the level of protection you want – PG, 13 or 18, for example.

Should I restrict my child’s time online?

It is wise to limit your child’s access to internet content and to restrict their time spent online. Establish some ‘Internet and Phone-free’ times, not only to connect as a family but also to make sure that children don’t get headaches, eyesight problems or repetitive strain injuries from too much mouse or keyboard action!

In 2015, 65% of 8-11 year olds reportedly owned a smartphone – with Internet access 24/7. For younger children especially, take away mobile phones and tablets overnight so that they can sleep.

How can I put internet filters on smartphones?

Your home computers may have internet filters on but what about your child’s smartphone? Contact your mobile network to ensure that appropriate filters are in place and to restrict mobile data. That way you won’t be surprised by expensive phone bills. Also, when you’re out, look for ‘Friendly Wi-Fi’ where inappropriate material is already blocked. Apps can also be downloaded to block certain content on smartphones.

Should I use anti-virus software?

Anti-virus software provides defence for your computer, and for your child. Always keep up to date. Spammers or inappropriate emails can also easily be added to a ‘blocked’ list.

How can I educate my child about online safety?

It is important to educate children from an early age of the possible dangers on the internet and how to maintain their safety. Make sure they know what action to take if they feel threatened, scared or violated by anything online. The National Crime Agency runs a helpful website, ThinkUKnow, for parents exploring the risks of internet usage. It has things you can discuss with your children and advice on some concerns you may have.

As children get older they will want more independence, more freedom to use the internet and more privacy to chat with friends on social media. Before you can let them have it they’ll need to understand internet safety for themselves.

Here are some general tips on how to educate your child about online safety:

Mother protecting her daughter from viewing offensive online content

  • Communication is vital. Spend time discussing websites your child wants to access and talk to them about what they think is acceptable or unacceptable to share online
  • Explain that the internet is an easy place for people to pretend to be someone they’re not. They should not trust anyone they don’t know personally
  • Emphasise the importance of not giving out personal details such as their name, address, age, school, or where they are going. Explain why they should not divulge this information
  • Tell them never to share or post personal photographs of themselves
  • Tell them not to speak to strangers and never arrange to meet anyone in real life that they have only seen online. Reassure them that they can always talk to you and tell them that they should if someone they do not know has contacted them
  • Teach them not to open emails from unknown people or click on links in emails that might contain viruses or spam
  • Make sure that they don’t click on any pop-ups and that they tell you if a website not on the ‘Safe List’ has appeared
  • Let them know that you are there to support them and keep them safe. Always encourage them to talk to you if anything has worried or upset them
  • Be aware that bullying, as well as friendship, takes place over the internet and social media

The internet is a fantastic educational tool. It gives children the opportunity to develop research skills and independent learning. However, it can be a dangerous place. So, how can you keep your child safe online? Set rules and boundaries to avoid possible dangers and encourage your children to speak openly with you. Educating your child about internet safety is one of the most valuable things you can do for them. Most importantly, make sure they know that you are there to support and protect them if anything on the internet worries them.

For more useful tips and advice, take a look at our Parents’ Knowledge Bank page. We have the answers to dozens of questions on education and raising children.

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