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How to make sure your child is using the internet safely

Robin Bowman

Robin Bowman
Nov 16, 2016

Kids are spending an ever-greater amount of time online.

The latest Ofcom report shows that teens and pre-teens now spend more time online than they do watching traditional TV.

Unlike TV, the online world is vast and dangers are common.

So, how do parents ensure young people are safe when they log on?

The first thing is to understand what it is that young people tend to do online – many parents simply don’t have a clue.

Understanding what they are doing and talking to them about it is the first step to making the experience as safe as possible.

Kids overwhelmingly go online to chat or otherwise connect with friends and find new ones through social media, to look for info, to play games and to watch videos, especially on YouTube.

Top providers like BT, TalkTalk, Sky and Virgin Media all offer a range of parent protection tools. You can compare broadband deals on A Spokesman Said now; look our for the services each offer for parents. These might include filtering, monitoring and blocking tools. 

Children are using the internet from a young age in increasing numbers


The dangers of the internet to children

We all know there is every kind of weird person out there in the online world and most parents’ greatest fear is that their child will unwittingly come across one of these people.

There are plenty of other dangers too, some less alarming. The risks could include:

* Inappropriate content that is likely to upset and alarm – this could be pornography and or violent material, of the most extreme kind.
* The sharing of personal information that can be used inappropriately or even criminally.
* Running up debts.

Here are 7 ways to make sue your child is safe online...


Teach your child about the internet

Number one is to create a child that’s internet savvy. To do that, you must engage with the activities your child is carrying out on the internet – talk to them from a very early age.

Just as we drill kids with the idea of stranger danger, we need also to educate them that there are people out there who will, for many reasons, pretend to be someone they are not. And this can represent a threat.

The key is to make aware without terrifying them.

Talk to your child early and make it clear that it’s not right to share personal information online with anyone, not only people you don’t know.  


Take things step by step

Start a conversation early and stay involved with what your child is doing online.

It’s easier to introduce new information slowly and to cover each new activity as it arises.

Don’t try and cover all dangers all at once, just focus on the activities your child is focused on.

Having this kind of conversation with an older child, perhaps a teen, asking about their online activities for the first time and trying to cover all potential dangers is going to be a massive challenge. 

So, do it slowly and do it early.


Know who you're child is talking to online

Try and keep up with the people your child – especially a younger child – is communicating with.

You may go as far as banning any talk, or communication with people who are not known to your child and you offline. 

Or you may think it more realistic just to monitor who they are speaking to.

The NSPCC advises asking questions like: 

* Who do they 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's easy for people to lie about themselves online, like their age, for example, because you have never met them.

A good way of monitoring a younger child (though few teens will allow this) is to be a ‘friend’ to your child on social media. 

If the child thinks this a bit uncool, perhaps there is someone else you trust that they may be happy to accept, maybe an older sibling or a cousin – just someone you trust who can report anything odd, suspicious or inappropriate.


Have rules from an early age

These will have to change as your child gets older, but if introduced early enough, these are more likely to be accepted as part of internet usage and a habit.

Agree them together, reaching an accord on what is appropriate considering the dangers – especially about what your child will and will not reveal about themselves online, keeping this to a minimum in terms of anything than can identify where they go to school, where they live, where they like to go or photos of themselves.

It’s also smart to have more down to earth guidelines to prevent online activity dominating everything else.

Agree on:

* The amount of time they can spend online.
* When they can go online (and when they can’t). For example, not going online at least an hour before bed has been shown to allow more restful sleeping patterns.
* Websites they can visit or activities they can take part in on those sites. In particular, agree what they can share and what they can’t and explain why not.
* Not to say anything to anyone you would not say in real life, offline.  

When it comes to games, it’s a lot easier to see whether they’re appropriate as they will be age-rated.

But it’s also important to know who your child is playing with ‘live’ because this involves chatting – again, stress what personal information it is inappropriate to share.

Agree on the amount of time they will spend on these games and stick to it. Preferably allow your child to self-police this.


Use internet parental controls 

These can often interfere somewhat with your use of the internet, blocking sites and pages you wouldn’t expect, but they will guard your child against inappropriate content.

Most ISPs provide controls that will filter content, blocking sites containing inappropriate language, photos and other content.

There is also software you can install to do this, often with settings it’s possible to more finely tune.

None of this might apply at friends’ homes, of course, so it’s important to make clear what restrictions you have in place to other parents, just as you might do about what they can and can’t eat – it’s something that should be discussed openly.

Before you sign up to an internet provider, ask them what controls they have in place for parents.

Whilst they will offer broadly similar tools - blocking and monitoring, for example - different providers will give you a different level of customisation. 

Crunch the numbers, and run through the providers by comparing prices on A Spokesman Said

Children often use the internet to play games and communicate with other players


Keep talking

Make sure you keep a dialogue going because your child’s activities will change rapidly and what was an appropriate safeguard one month may be defunct a month later.

Especially encourage your child to report anything they believe is inappropriate or that bothers or upsets them. The worst thing that can happen is that they have this experience and keep it to themselves to dwell on.


Explain about online bullying

Not only should your child know how to treat others with respect, they should be able to recognise the various forms of bulling and so-called trolling that can take place on line, and – most importantly – refuse to be sucked into doing this themselves. 

Explain that they should always say no to this kind of behaviour and to report it to a responsible adult, like a teacher if they experience it directly or indirectly.

Have we missed anything?

Parents, share your safety tips in the comments section below.


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