Keeping kids safe online ranks pretty highly on the list of modern parenting worries, doesn’t it?
In a digital, globally-connected age, kids accept online access as an essential part of everyday life. They constantly see adults accessing information online, via smartphones, tablets, computers, games consoles and TVs. At school, the internet is an integral part of their learning, and among their peers it’s an accepted way of playing, creating and connecting with friends. Add to that the TV’s constant prompts to visit websites, and you can see why kids take being online as pretty much a given. I think this is especially true at this time of year, when lots of children have received new tablets or smartphones for Christmas and are super-keen to get stuck in with their new gadget.
Now obviously the internet is an amazing resource to have at our fingertips, and I don’t want to discourage my kids from using it. But I do want to make sure that I’ve created a safe way for them to be online, and getting that right can feel pretty daunting.
I’m sure we’ve all got a story to tell about a time when, despite the best of intentions, an innocent online search resulted in some unexpected results. I can clearly remember Miss J’s puzzled face when a search for ‘My Little Pony’ brought up some fan art results that most definitely weren’t aimed at children. And the time when JD looked up some song lyrics, only to find swear words that didn’t feature in the radio edit he’d heard. Add to these anecdotes the results of NSPCC research, which found that children were as likely to find pornography accidentally, as to deliberately search for it, and you have a very compelling case for the need to keep our kids safe online.
In the face of such unpredictable outcomes from internet activity, protecting our children when they are online can seem like an impossible task. But there are actually lots of positive things we can do as parents to keep our kids safe online. Here are five steps you can take right now to help control your child’s online experience and give yourself some peace of mind.
Talk to your child about online safety
Simple, but really effective. By talking regularly to your kids about online safety, you can stay involved in their online experience and provide them with support when they need it.
Before my kids started using the internet, we sat down and chatted about the need to stick to appropriate sites, and what that might look like. We then explored some websites together (I’d done a bit of homework first), and agreed on a list of favourites which they could then use. This has worked really well for us, and both kids still check with us before visiting a new site. As they’ve got older, we’ve continued to have regular chats about their online use; while this is a good opportunity to deal with experiences they have found uncomfortable, it’s also a great way to share their positive, fun experiences too.
NSPCC have produced a really good resource on talking to your child about staying safe online, you can find it at https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/online-safety/talking-your-child-staying-safe-online/
Enjoy online time as a family
Using the internet with your children is a great way to keep online time firmly in the family zone. It’s not just about playing games here; get the kids involved in things like booking a holiday, buying a birthday present, chatting online with relatives, even doing the online grocery shop. You can demonstrate a variety of safe, practical uses for the internet, while at the same time showing your child first-hand the kind of content you view as appropriate.
Use parental controls
Using parental controls is a proven way to keep children safe online. You can use them to block unsuitable content, control things like in-app purchases, or manage how long your child spends online.
It’s important to cover all the devices that your children use to access the internet within the home, including tablets, smartphones, TVs, computers and games consoles. With so many different devices, this task can feel like a bit of a minefield. The good news is NSPCC has partnered with O2 to provide parents with advice and technical support on keeping kids safe online; this is available free, whether you’re an O2 customer or not.
To get help with online safety you can call the free dedicated NSPCC & O2 Helpline on 0808 800 5002, or visit www.nspcc.org.uk/controls. You can also visit an O2 Guru in O2 stores for hands-on help – book an appointment here.
NSPCC recommends that parental controls should always be used in conjunction with regular chats with your child about their online activity.
Kids love YouTube? Stick to a preferred list
If your child likes using YouTube to search for content related to a hobby or interest, it’s worth doing some research into ‘safe’ YouTubers on that particular topic. We’ve done this very effectively with JD, who loves all things Minecraft; we’ve agreed a list of Minecraft YouTubers whose content is appropriate for his age, and explained to him why it’s important to stick to this list. If one of his friends suggests a new YouTuber, we check it out first. You can also use parental controls to alter YouTube safety settings, this is one of the areas covered by the NSPCC & O2 Helpline I mentioned earlier.
Use apps that restrict search parameters
If you’re keen to limit your child’s ability to search online, consider using apps that restrict this kind of activity, while still allowing them the freedom to browse. We find the DisneyLife app is brilliant for this; the kids can still conduct their own searches for Disney shows, songs and books, but everything is done within the safety of the app itself. This kind of online use is perfect when you’re out and about using WiFi networks that may not have parental controls in place.
Keeping kids safe online can feel like a never-ending task, but by putting controls in place, setting a good example, and discussing online safety regularly with your child, you can help provide a safe online environment for them to enjoy and explore. It feels good to know the NSPCC & O2 Helpline is there to offer advice and support when we need it too. What are your tips for keeping kids safe online?
This is a commissioned post for O2 & NSPCC. The NSPCC is a leading children’s charity fighting to end child abuse in the UK. Almost 90% of their funding is from the public, is you’d like to support them with a donation visit www.nspcc.org.uk/donate