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  • How to ensure that your child stays safe online: A complete guide to keeping children safe online

    How do I keep my children safe online?

    When your child is reaching an age where they start to use the internet themselves, it can easily become a minefield of safety issues that continue to increase as they grow up. This practical guide to internet safety for parents and carers, aims to help you negotiate these issues, providing you with the best information, advice and tips to keep your children protected and safe online.

    From how to talk to your children about staying safe online, to safe use of social media and dealing with online bullying, there are many permutations of how your child will be interacting with the internet. During this guide we discuss the main areas you should be aware of to ensure your child is using the internet safely.

    Talking to your children about online safety

    The way that we use the internet has changed and can be harder than ever before to safeguard your children when they are online. Ensuring your children know how to use the internet safely is increasingly important as the internet and it’s many uses change over time.

    Today, our children interact with the internet via an ever-increasing range of devices, including phones, tablets and consoles that they can use in private and are often portable to use on the move. Additionally, the sheer variety of social media channels can make it very difficult for a parent to monitor them all.

    As parents, it is importamt to teach, support and monitor your children’s use of the internet, particularly at younger ages, but also as they grow older too. It is very easy to assume that your children know more than you and have it all under control because of their increased familiarity.

    This doesn’t mean that they do have it all under control. Your children need guidance and to be supported in their use of the internet, as they would with other areas of their life. Talking to your children about how to stay safe online and being aware about what they do online is vital to their healthy and appropriate use of the internet.

    To protect your children from coming into contact with things that you do not want them to see or hear online you will need to set some guidelines for their use of the internet. You will also need to teach them that there are rules, regulations, people and tools in place to help them and others stay safe whilst online. In addition, you can talk to your children about copyright laws and giving proper credit to sources, so that they understand how to download and use content legally.

    Protecting your childrens’ identities online

    The internet is a place unlike any other – another world where fantastical things can occur. A place where everything seems exciting, magical, instant and endless, so it can be difficult for children to imagine and understand that it is also a place where they need to keep themselves protected. One of the most recent internet crazes which was affecting children was the MOMO challenge. This challenge was put into videos on YouTube and it was very hard to stop. Thankfully YouTube and other sites worked hard to stop this from happening.

    Different to anything else that we give our children, online devices are not automatically suitable for them – it is important for us and our children to remember that. Below are the top ways to ensure that you keep your children's identity is protected online.

    Help your children to understand that they cannot trust everything they see online. It is a hard concept for children to grasp, so you will need to be honest and open with them. One analogy is to compare the internet to an open door, you wouldn't let just anyone come into your home, likewise, you have to be very careful about what you do online. Most devices will have some parental controls which you can set. This is very handy and it helps you monitor what your children are doing on the internet. It is helpful to talk about this in terms of both the interactions and the content that your children view. From games, to videos, to websites, to social media – it is crucial that you teach your children not to believe everything that they see, read and hear online. Instead, help them to be analytical about the content that they see and help them judge the content they are watching so they know when they should believe what they are being told or whether it is appropriate for them to be on it or not.

    Teach your children not to share personal information with people that they speak to online. It is important that you explain to your child that people that they meet online may not be who they say they are. You will need to teach them that online interactions are not the same as those that they have with their friends in real life. That these communications are with strangers, who may not be who they say they are, so they must never share any personal information to these individuals. Don't forget too, to explain what we mean by personal information, so that they understand precisely what information they should not share.

    Explain to your children that they must never meet up with anyone that they meet online. Tell them explicitly that they must tell an adult straightaway if someone that they have met online asks them to meet up, share any personal information or send any pictures. Again, you will need to explain what you mean by asking to meet up or any other terms discussed so they know exactly what you are talking about.

    Show your child that using the internet leaves a digital footprint that is permanent. It can be useful to google yourself to demonstrate this. Talk with your child about the fact that anything that they post online including, images, photos and videos can be viewed by anyone in the world forever. Teach them to think carefully before they post anything online and never include personal information.
    Talk with them to consider the following:

    • How anything they post could affect themselves, or others, now and in the future
    • How anything they post could be seen by anyone including you
    • Whether what they have posted is respectful to others
    • Whether they would still want to post it after waiting for a couple of minutes and if they really want to

    Teach your children about how to use reporting tools, ratings and helplines to help them to protect themselves online. As well as talking to your child about how to take precautions online, it is just as critical that you ensure that they are fully informed about what to do if they do come across something that makes them feel uncomfortable, worried or unsure. Including the following:

    • How to block people and pop-ups
    • That they should tell an adult that they trust immediately
    • How to use online reporting tools
    • Why not to open unusual email attachments or follow links that are suspicious or unfamiliar

    Set up a family email for everyone to use when online. One way of monitoring what emails your children are seeing is to share an email with them, or to have access to their email. This way you can view their emails and take action where required, to cut out anything which is not child-friendly.

    Together as a family, create a family agreement about the steps that the entire family will follow to stay safe online. For more information about family agreements see the section below on how to talk to your children about cyber-bullying and staying safe online.

    To find out more and to discover lots of great tips and advice for parents and carers, visit: Childnet.

    Using parental controls

    Parental controls are software and tools that give you some control over what your children see and do online. They can be installed on mobile phones, gaming devices, home broadband routers, PCs, TV services and more. However, they are not enough on their own, they need to be used in conjunction with all of the other approaches to keep your child safe online.
    When you add parental controls to your devices you can do things like:

    • monitor, view, restrict and block messages, notifications, apps and contacts
    • limit the times that your children can access the internet
    • track your child's use of apps, websites and streaming services – such as Youtube
    • install spending restrictions or blocks to prevent your children from making in-app purchases etc.
    • create different limitations to suit each child

    For mobile phones specifically you can also:

    • track your child's location
    • record and monitor all communication
    • install an SOS button that will alert you of your child's precise location and remain active until your child is found

    In addition, every device, and many apps/software, have a set of in-built parental controls – although limited, it is worth activating these too, if they offer additional functionality to you.
    Some of the top parental controls that parents favour include Net Nanny, Norton Family and Qustodio. For more about the most popular parental control software – visit: PCMag.com – The Best Parental Control Software.

    Using social media safely and dealing with cyberbullying

    Social media is one of the biggest draws for our children and a source of ongoing worry for many parents. It is an ever-shifting industry that is hard to keep up with. However, there are many steps that you can take to help your children to stay safe whilst using social media.

    Additionally, it talking to your child about the points outlined in the above section about protecting your children's identity online.
    In the context of social media, this requires further care to protect your children’s identity and not provide too much information, or indeed overly personal information to those who should not know, not just strangers.
    As best as possible, ensure your children know what steps to take if they feel uncomfortable, worried or unsure about anything that they come across or recieve from others online.

    Keep abreast of all the latest safeguarding practises and privacy options for any of the social networks or other communication tools your children use. To do so, the NSPCC has a very useful section dedicated to social media safety on their website, especially for parents and carers, where you can learn about, and keep updated on, each of the latest social networks and how to use them safely, including the likes of; Tik Tok, Facebook and Snapchat. Visit: Net Aware.

    Show your children how to use online reporting buttons. This is very important because it will allow your children to flag up any suspicious activity or content. Tell your child to report anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or worried.

    Teach your child that they must tell a known adult straight away. If your children are being bullied online or if someone that they have met online asks them to meet up, share any personal information or send any pictures. You should make sure they tell someone appropriate as soon as it happens. This way an adult can take the correct action and report the individual.

    Additionally, as a parent or carerm you can contact CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre), if you think that your child has been exposed to inappropriate sexual contact, approached by someone or bullied online. Hold on to any evidence and make sure that you know the other places that you need to report it, such as the school, police and service provider.

    Teach your children how to review, remove and block contacts and friends on a regular basis. While most websites will block inappropriate content as much as possible, but if some slips through its always good to show your children how to block it and, if possible, report it to the site itself, to prevent further instances.

    On social media or other communication tools/platforms, encourage your children to use the settings to be able to block or avoid content that they do not want to be exposed to. If you are not fully aware yourself, guides for any of these networks or tools should be available online that should clarify this for you.

    Teach your children to be aware of suspicious links, attachments and online scams. Being aware and knowing how to remove/avoid this malicious content can reduce the risk of your child being tricked by any of these unknowingly and any issues that could arise from them.

    Discuss about social networks your children use and their experiences using them. For further guidance about how to support your children to use social networks safely and deal with cyberbullying, visit: Net Aware.

    Online safety in video games and online apps

    Gaming and mobile apps entered our world as a convenient form of entertainment, however with the ever-growing revelations about apps privacy issues, as well as gambling features in some games, we are only just beginning to realise that these forms of entertainment need our careful attention too. Consider the points to help you to protect your children who use these apps and games online.

    Keeping up to date – being aware of all of the latest advice, news and alerts about the specific apps and games that your children use, common examples like Minecraft and Apex Legends are featured on the NSPCC's dedicated area for parents.

    Knowing controls available – Teach your children how to block pop-ups and use reporting/deleting tools. Also, ensure that you have all in-app purchase settings turned off and parental controls setup on whatever device, software or other service.

    Awareness of gambling – Show your children how to spot gambling apps that pressurise children to spend money to access higher levels. Discuss why you don't want them to use those apps.

    Online safety for mobile phones and tablets

    Mobile phones and tablets are used on the go, so as well as following the previous guidance on how to protect your identity, use social media and enjoy games and apps safely, you will also want to ensure that you have installed specific parental controls for mobile phones and tablets and created a family agreement together.

    How do parental controls on mobile phones work?


    Parental controls on mobile devices ensure that your child never uses their phone unsupervised or without permission. In addition to being able to monitor, block or restrict any content, apps, videos or communication, you can also do things like track their location, install an SOS button and lots more. To find out more about the top parental control software for mobile phones and tablets you could also take a look at PCMag’s recommended parental control apps.

    Additionally, if you want more information; O2 work in partnership with the NSPCC to help parents to keep their children safe online. Get free face-to-face support about how to keep your children protected on their phones by visiting the O2 website to book your free in-store appointment with a specialist O2 consultant.

    Familiarising yourself with the language that your children use online:

    Children and teenagers often develop their own vernacular and abbreviated terms, which can be difficult to be up to date with as a parent or carer. To aid with this the CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) have released a long list of acronyms that young people are using online, such as;
    ASL – Age/Sex/Location
    CD9 / Code 9 – Parents present
    8 – Oral sex.
    As you can see, what may seem relatively innocent or benign terms can quickly turn into a safeguarding issue for your child. View the full list of acronyms at Internet Safety’s acronyms page

    Helplines and further support

    Last updated by MyJobQuote on 1st August 2019.

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