How to Explain Internet Safety to Your Child
Children today grow up using the internet. They harness its potential to make friends, play games and gather information for homework. These mini ‘digital natives’, as they’re known, may understand instinctively how to operate a computer, tablet or smartphone, but what they may not be so sharp on is the safety issues that arise on the internet.
To help your child stay safe, open discussion of internet safety is paramount. It’s easier said than done though, and the internet safety talk now ranks up there with the ‘where babies come from’ conversation when it comes to difficult discussions to have with your child.
In this article, I explain how to broach the subject in a way that resonates without frightening your child.
Understanding what children get up to online
You don’t have to be an internet expert to discuss internet safety with your child, but you do need to understand what kind of activities they may be getting up to online, and the potential dangers associated with them.
As well as researching homework, they’re likely sharing photographs, watching videos, and playing online games with others. They could be chatting to strangers on internet forums or communicating with fellow gamers.
Though it can be fun and informative, the internet is a scary place. Issues such as child abuse, cyberbullying, computer viruses, identity theft and many more can rear their ugly heads.
It’s worth reading up on each of these issues so that you can approach the topic from an informed perspective.
What’s more, your child is at risk of being exposed to inappropriate, disturbing and age-restricted content, such as pornography, or information about sensitive subjects such as self-harm or eating disorders. It goes without saying that at an impressionable age exposure to this type of content can do a lot of harm, so you may also wish to look into parental controls, which restrict access to unsuitable content.
Broaching the subject
You should decide whether to discuss the subject as a family or on a one-to-one basis with your child. It may be that a specific experience or your concerns over a particular website may provide a starting point for the discussion.
It’s important to ensure that your child doesn’t feel as though you’re telling them off, as this will likely make them hesitant to mention things to you in the future.
Consider starting the discussion on a positive note: ask your child about their favourite websites or apps, and getting them to show you how they work.
Getting down to the nitty gritty
A good way of explaining the dangers is to talk with your child about how online behaviour should be no different to behaviour in real life. For example, they’re almost certainly familiar with the concept of ‘stranger danger’, but perhaps don’t realise that the principle applies as much to the internet as to real life.
While there can be many positives of interacting with strangers on the internet, such as building social skills, you need to explain that it’s actually even more dangerous online: criminals can lurk behind an anonymous profile or create false identities that mean the person your child is talking to may not be who they say they are.
Similarly, children should understand the dangers of over-sharing information, and of saying things online that they may regret. If you’re worried that they may be bullying or posting inappropriate content, ‘Would you be happy for Grandma to see this?’ is a good question to ask: it brings home the message that anything you say online can potentially be seen by anyone.
Make your child aware of what constitutes personal information, such as their birthday, school and home address, and explain that they should never use such information in their usernames or anywhere else online. You could even have fun together making up an anonymous username for them. Turn it into a fun, positive experience.
It’s good to talk
Explain that it’s OK to talk about things that worry them, and encourage them to share any concerns straightaway. Ask your child whether they’ve ever felt uncomfortable about something they’ve seen or experienced online. For instance, it could be that someone has made hurtful comments about them or a friend. Similarly, ask them to check with you first if someone asks them for personal information.
Educate on what to do in the event of a problem
By now, you should have discovered what your child’s favourite websites and apps are. It’s worth doing a bit more learning yourself – sign up to these sites, learn about their privacy settings and how to block someone or report abuse. Then sit down with your child and go through how these functions work.
Be careful not to be pure doom and gloom
Though the internet is fraught with danger, it has lots of benefits as well. Maintain an open discussion about the internet by highlighting the positive aspects, as well as what you’ve been doing online yourself. This familiarises children with the idea of talking about what they’ve been up to online. For instance, you could talk about a recipe you’ve found online. This helps strengthen your bond and a sense of trust, which in turn encourages them to share.
Create some ground rules
Finally, set some rules about your child’s internet use to give them some boundaries within which to operate, such as limiting their hours online. This might seem like something quite negative, but you can involve your child in the discussion so that they don’t feel as though you’re curtailing their freedom by dictating what they can and can’t do.
Explain why you’re implementing each rule and even ask them what they think is reasonable – make sure to reiterate that you’re doing this for their wellbeing, and explain the benefits of not spending all your time online.
You may deem it necessary to veto their use of certain websites or apps, and it’s also important to explain why you feel they’re not appropriate. A ban can be particularly difficult for your child to accept if their friends are allowed to use that site.
The earlier you have this discussion with your child, the better – but if your child already uses the internet regularly, it’s never too late to open the discussion.
- Parents’ Guide to Twitter
- Parents’ Guide to Facebook
- Parents’ Guide to Snapchat
- Internet Safety for Parents: How Can You Keep Your Child Safe Online?
- Safeguarding Children On The Internet Training Course