Internet Safety For Kids: How To Keep Children Safe Online

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Ever-evolving technological advances have revolutionised the way we see the world. With most people now having access to a technological device, the way we conduct our lives has changed. However, it is not without risks. As a parent, we need to know how to keep our children safe online.

It is a massive part of their life for the younger generation who have grown up with technology. It can be difficult for them to define real life and recognise where the dangers are. 

Read this guide for some internet safety tips to keep children safe online. 

How do I set rules with my child?

Online safety can be a complex subject to broach with children and depends on their age, cognitive ability and level of understanding. You should ensure that any child who has access to the internet understands it comes with a level of expectation and specific ground rules to maintain their safety.

Parental controls

Try to set boundaries with your child regarding their use of technology early on. Firstly, parental controls can be a huge help. They allow you to block certain websites, restrict search engines and can be applied to all devices, including iPads and televisions. Parental control software prevents young people from accessing content that is not age-appropriate.

Set time limits

Try to limit their time on technological devices and monitor their activity. You might want to include safety features on the device, such as disabling their location and setting timers, so they know how much time they have online.

Use technology for learning

For younger children, download some age-appropriate apps and online activities that are suitable. Use technology to benefit them, perhaps in an educational way. Spend time together online and model how to use it safely, play online games and even set up a family media plan, so it is an inclusive way to show responsible online behaviour.

Talk about safety 

For older children, a discussion about online safety will allow you to explain why precautions are in place. Try to have an appropriate conversation about internet safety and the need to keep them safe online. You may want to tell your child that you will monitor their online access and check what websites they are using.

Your responsibility is to implement parental controls, use online safety resources, and make it clear to your child that the rules are there for their benefit and to keep them safe online.

Let's look at some online safety advice to teach kids how to use smartphones responsibly

Most children of a certain age now own or have access to smartphones. There is plenty of online safety advice regarding the use of smartphones. Here are some ideas:

  • Strong passwords - Show your child how to set strong passwords to protect their private and personal details. Ensure they know never to share any information about themselves online and tell a trusted adult if anyone ever requests this immediately
  • Emergency contacts - Install emergency contact numbers on the phone and link them to speed dial so if they ever need to contact someone in an emergency, they can press one number to dial
  • Software - Install security software and parental control software to protect them from unwanted calls or texts and limit what they can search
  • Discuss online risks - Have an age-appropriate discussion about online dangers and to who they are giving their number. Monitor message apps and make sure the young person only replies to a message if they recognise the sender

Why do children need protection on the internet?

Our children have grown up with technology, and many view it as a natural extension of their lives. As a result, they can sometimes be naive when it comes to the very real dangers of the internet. Younger adults and children need to be protected from online risks.

Kids are at risk of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying wasn't a term that would have been recognised decades ago. However, it has become a real issue in children's lives with our technological advances. With many young people having access to the internet, cyberbullying has become more prevalent.

Cyberbullying is a form of online bullying where the child will find themselves being targeted on message apps or social media apps. It has severe consequences for that young person's mental health as they have no escape from the bullies as they can get to them in the safety of their own home.

It is vital as a parent that you keep your child safe by initiating honest conversations regarding their online activity and browser history. Do this in a sensitive and age-appropriate way to ensure your child understands you are taking an interest in ensuring their safety and wellbeing.

Look out for signs of withdrawal, overuse of their phone or an unwillingness to share their online activity with you. It is against the law in the UK to use a phone or the internet to cause alarm or distress. If you are concerned for your child's safety, report it to the police.

Further advice on cyberbullying can be found at www.nspcc.org.uk or www.childline.org.uk. These are both safe organisations that support parents. Your child can also contact them if they feel unable to tell anyone, so make sure they know the contact details should the need arise.

Predators use the internet to find victims

Unfortunately, the potential risks of internet use include the danger posed by online predators. This is a term used to describe a criminal who uses the internet to lure in victims, including identity theft, grooming and sex.

Protecting children and young people from online predators is crucial as the problem can escalate and become very serious. These criminals will target young or vulnerable people and be very organised and secretive. Remind your children never to give out personal details in any context.

They will often pretend to be someone they are not and may ask for the child's personal information. They will infiltrate social networking sites, social media or gaming sites, and it is easy for the child to be drawn into a conversation. Make sure the camera on the device is disabled and set security settings to prevent sending and receiving photos.

With the amount of time young people spend online, it isn't easy to fully monitor their online lives. This is why openness and honesty with your child are necessary to ensure they are at least aware of potential dangers they may face.

Access to inappropriate content

To help your child stay safe online, you must be aware of their potential to encounter inappropriate content while surfing the net. Access to unwanted content can be controlled with parental controls on their devices.

However, with "click-bait" a real temptation (adverts or pictures encouraging you to click on them), it is still possible for your child to see something they shouldn't. Search safe engines can be utilised on your devices to ensure only appropriate websites can be searched, helping keep children safe online.

The Internet Watch Foundation has a national hotline reporting service if you are worried about your child's inappropriate graphic images online. You can report online via their website: www.iwf.org.uk/report.

Always try to have honest conversations with your child about what they encounter online and report anything you are unhappy or uncomfortable about.

Other dangers such as the black market

Many other aspects of the internet threaten the online safety of children. Younger people need to be educated about the dangers of the black market. The black market is an underground economy that deals in illegal trade or traffic.

Some young people may be vulnerable to being coerced into this dangerous online world. It is crucial to keep track of the sites they visit and monitor any online purchases to protect children. This is an easy way for criminals to gain personal information and bank details.

How do I protect my children online?

Monitor websites visited

It can be a difficult conversation, particularly with older children and teenagers, but monitoring websites can help maintain their safety online. Keep track of how much time your child spends online and on their social media so you can make sure they are staying safe.

Explain the dangers of the internet

It is essential to protect children from the dangers of the internet by having open and honest conversations about keeping themselves safe.

Many resources will give both parents and children internet safety tips, including websites or child-friendly YouTube videos. Read and watch first to ensure the content is suitable for your child. Make it something you then do together to promote healthy dialogue around being safe online.

Filter out inappropriate websites using software

Utilise parental controls and security software, such as ESET's antivirus software. Parental control software prevents young people from accessing content that is not age-appropriate. Most devices will have parental controls built into the hardware. However, additional software can offer more layers of protection.

Encourage your children to be wise and only engage with people they know

Have an age-appropriate discussion about online risks and to who they are giving their number. Monitor messaging apps and make sure the young person only replies to a message if they recognise the sender. It is a good idea to ask your child to ask their friends' parents for their numbers so they can message each other rather than the children exchanging or giving out their numbers.

This is important not only on smartphones or social media but also on gaming consoles such as Xbox, Nintendo Switch or PlayStation. Some games will allow people to "join" your game, which becomes a window of opportunity for an online predator. Your child should always check they know the gamer ID. Tell a trusted adult who can get the ID and number blocked if they don't recognise it.

Keep internet time-limited after dark

Reducing the time your child spends on the internet is difficult as the younger generation views technology as an extension of their natural lives. Many may find it challenging to put their phone down. This is especially difficult to regulate with older children and teenagers who conduct many of their social lives on their phones or gaming devices.

Limiting the amount of time spent online is a good idea, especially after dark. This is when online predators could strike, especially if it is late and they think the child is perhaps upstairs alone and not being monitored. It is a good idea to limit the times your child can be online and try to keep them downstairs or at the very least visible when they are surfing the net.

Explaining internet safety to your kids

We must have honest discussions with children and young people about online safety. Our responsibility as parents, carers, and teachers is to make sure children know how to spot dangers and know what they should do if they are upset or uncomfortable about anything they hear or see.

We must educate our children but make sure it is done age-appropriate. Conversations should ensure our children have the tools to keep themselves safe whilst also not being distressed or scared. For advice and tools, visit www.nspcc.org.uk or www.childline.org.uk.

Cyberbullying prevention

Again education is key. A bully will often pretend to be nice at first, but their behaviour can quickly change. They can involve others across your social media and messaging platforms, and it can quickly escalate.

Your child must know the difference between what may be seen as "friendly banter" and what is, in fact, bullying. Anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or causes emotional distress should be treated as bullying.

Keep track of who they are chatting to online and have open conversations so your child feels they can share concerns and issues with you. This is key to keeping your child safe online. Report problems to your child's school if appropriate and save all messages so you can escalate and report to the police if needed.

How can teens use social media safely?

Keeping teenagers safe on the internet can be difficult as they spend many of their social lives online. You may experience issues when asking your teenager to share their online activity with you. This conversation needs to be handled carefully and in a way that hopefully allows the young person to appreciate your concern for their safety.

Monitoring your teenager's activity should not be seen as an opportunity to spy or judge, as this will quickly close down conversations regarding trust and openness. Your child must feel safe to tell you things and know that you are there to support them regardless of what they tell you.

Using technology and apps to keep your child safe online

Be sure to use the parental control apps and model how to use technology safely. Consider using ESET antivirus for Android or the free ESET Android parental control app to allow you to block content and set timers and boundaries to keep your child safe online.

What should you do if you are concerned about your child's online activity?

Always document everything, including website information, pictures, and messages and report it to the police if you are concerned about your child's safety or the safety of others. Always keep an open dialogue and look for any changes in behaviour. Seek advice if you are concerned.

Look out for inappropriate and sexual behaviour online

Whilst you need to monitor who and what your child comes into contact with on the web, it is also essential to look out for any changes in your child's behaviour or unusual reactions to situations that may raise red flags.

Keeping children safe online includes looking out for any inappropriate or sexual behaviour online, including your child sending or receiving explicit messages or photos. Always document and report to the police. If the images are sexually explicit and involve minors, you can also report them to the Internet Watch Foundation on their website.

Never judge or be disappointed in your child if they are in danger. They will need to be supported, and some charities can offer advice on this, including www.nspcc.org.uk.

Helplines you can call

Always reach out to appropriate sources for support and guidance in keeping children safe online. Organisations such as the NSPCC and Childline have plenty of information on their websites. There are also useful helplines you can call:

  • NSPCC - 0808 800 5000
  • Childline - 0800 1111