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Online safety

While schools are closed due to coronavirus, children are spending more time online, sometimes with less adult supervision. While good for education and entertainment, online access also brings increased dangers.

Online safety for primary aged children

Does your child know how to keep themselves safe online?

Talk to your child about the things they should know, depending on their age.

Under 5s

  • know to ask an adult when wanting to use a computer and especially the internet
  • be kind to friends and share
  • be careful with technology and devices
  • talk about how much time should be spent using computer, tablet or game devices

Age 5 to 7

  • use a password and keep it private
  • know what information they should keep private
  • know to tell an adult when something unexpected or worrying takes place
  • talk about why it is important to be kind and polite
  • agree and follow basic online safety rules
  • know that not everyone is who they say they are on the internet

Age 7 to 9

  • choose a secure password and an appropriate screen name when online
  • talk about the ways they can protect themselves online
  • understand how to use reporting and safety buttons on websites or apps as well as reporting to an adult
  • know that anything shared online can be seen by others
  • make good choices about the websites and apps used, ensuring they are age appropriate
  • talk about why spending too much time online is not a good idea

Age 9 to 11

  • know that anything shared online can be seen and may upset others and understand the consequences of being unkind
  • explain the consequences of sharing too much information online
  • make good choices about the time spent online
  • know how to protect themselves and their devices from harm on the Internet
  • support friends to protect themselves and report concerns to a trusted adult
  • talk about why downloading files and games from the Internet can be risky and lead to viruses and malware

Online safety for secondary children

Talk to your child about the things they should know, depending on their age.

Ages 11 to 13

  • know what makes a secure password and use one on all devices
  • know that sending threatening messages, hurtful comments or sharing images which could upset someone else, can be classed as cyberbullying
  • know that anything shared online may be around for a long time and can't always be controlled
  • understand how to use reporting and safety buttons on websites or apps and know where to go for help
  • limit the time spent on devices and take regular breaks

Age 14+

  • understand that settings on devices can be changed (configured) to increase security and restrict access
  • understand that security settings and passwords do not mean that the internet is 'safe' and safe choices are really important
  • don't give in to peer pressure to send inappropriate comments and images
  • keep talking openly and don’t shy away from tricky conversations around challenging issues like sexting, pornography and cyberbullying
  • understand that deleted information and deleted posts may be recoverable
  • understand that accessing networks without permission is a criminal offence
  • take ownership of limiting time spent on devices

Online safety for parents

With all of the potential that the online world and new technology offers, young people now have access to huge opportunities. They use technology to express themselves, explore, and be creative; it has changed the way they communicate.

The internet has changed all of our lives, and your child has grown up during this change. Many of the things that confuse, baffle or even scare us, are part of every day for them. Whether you're a technophobe or love the latest gadget, it's still likely that you'll be playing catch-up with the way your child is using the Internet.

You might wonder whether what they are doing is safe, and you might also be thinking, 'How can I be as good a parent online as I am offline?'

All parents fear the potential negative impact of social media, cyber-bullying, adult content and predators - but the Internet also offers amazing opportunities for learning, having fun with friends, creating and publishing ideas, pictures and video, collaborating and enjoying music and media.

While it might be tempting to ban internet access or smartphones, this has been shown to make children more vulnerable when they go it alone. Just as we teach children how to cross the road safely by doing it alongside their parents and carers, then taking the lead and finally doing it on their own - staying safe online is the same.

Help protect your child online

Educate yourself and your child about the dangers of the internet

You should educate yourself so that you are become comfortable enough with the internet to communicate the dangers and risks of being online with your children. Teach your children about potential dangers of the internet. Talk openly and honestly about what they are doing online, what your concerns are.

Some of the dangers include:

  • cyberbullying from people your child knows or someone outside their friendship group
  • befriending and messaging from people who aren't who they say they are and may pose a risk
  • posting private information which could be used for fraud or to target your child for scams
  • falling for scams which trick the user into revealing information or paying money
  • fake news which can lead to confusion or additional worry
  • accidentally downloading malware or viruses
  • posting something which may cause upset or may affect children later in life

Be sensitive to changes in your children's behaviours that may indicate they are being victimised.

Be alert to personality changes. Offenders work very hard at driving a wedge between children and their parents and children may become withdrawn from their families or secretive about their activities.

Get Safe Online offer free expert advice around using and protecting yourself against the dangers online.

Supervise your child

Supervise your children on the internet just as you would monitor what movies and TV shows they watch and the places they go with their friends.

Younger children should only use the Internet when they are in a family area and you can keep a constant eye on what they are doing. As they get older they will demand more privacy, but it's important to stay interested.

Encourage children to leave portable devices outside their bedrooms at night time. This makes sure they are not tempted to check notifications, use their phones or tablets in bed and get adequate rest.

The internet account and device screen name should be in your name, not your child's name. It's also a good idea to know your children's passwords and let them know you will check their online activity.

For teens, this is unlikely to be well received and may not be realistic. Keep communicating with them. Ask them to show you their social media feeds, share yours with them, 'follow' or 'friend' them (for as long as they will let you). Ultimately, they need to respect you as the bill payer.

Use parental controls

Use your internet service provider's parental controls, blocking and filtering tools. These block unsuitable content and help you to protect your child. While you should use monitoring software and filters, do not totally rely upon them.

You can also download free online access control software so you can track your child's use of the Internet and block any unwanted sites. Techradar carried out a recent review of the best parental control software and apps.

Filtering can be very effective but no system can guarantee to keep your child safe. Use parental controls as one of the ways you protect your child, rather than the only way.

Spend time with your children online

Ask your children how they use the Internet and ask them to teach you about their favourite sites, games or apps. Just as you look for good television programs for your children, take the time to find the best and most useful websites for them or use a list provided by your child's school.

Ask your child questions such as:

  • Why do they like the site?
  • What can they do on it?
  • What's so fun about it?
  • Who uses it at school?
  • Who you can talk to?
  • Who are their friends on it?

Set boundaries in the online world just as you would in the real world

As a parent or carer you have a challenging job. You need to know what your children are doing online and also help them to do it in a safe way. It is important to continue to discuss boundaries so that they develop as your child's use of technology does.

  • limit the amount of time your child spends online, or playing computer games
  • make sure they take screen breaks - at least 5 minutes every 45 to 60 minutes
  • ensure they know not to share or post information, images pr videos they wouldn't be happy to share with you
  • ensure they know not to give out personal details, such as full name, phone numbers and address, to people they don't know and trust
  • encourage them to come to you, or another trusted adult, if they are concerned
  • teach them where they can go for independent help and support if they are not with you

As your child grows and becomes more independent, it is only natural that they take this independence online. As your child explores and tries new things they will sometimes push boundaries and take risks, this is an essential part of growing up. Encourage them to keep talking to you.

Online meetings and friends

Never allow your children to arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met online without your permission. If you ever do agree to a meeting, make sure it is in a place where you can oversee or discretely overhear the content. They should never meet online 'friends' alone.

Tell your children what they are told online may, or may not, be true. No matter how much their online 'buddies' seem like friends, they are still strangers, sometimes pretending to be children.

Information sharing

Do not let your child give out any personal information of any kind on the internet or meet face-to-face someone they met online. Children should never give out their name, home address, telephone number or school name.

Also be aware that sharing photos could reveal the details of the place it was taken in the captions and tags. Make sure you have approval rights to any posts you or your child are tagged in.

Go to the movies

The Think U Know website has films and advice for children from 5 all the way to 16. Your child may have seen these at school, but they are a great way to start conversations about online safety.

The films may also be a good way for you to learn about some of the pressures young people may face, what can go wrong and what you can do about it. It is recommended that you watch films on your own beforehand so that you're aware of the topics covered.

Get your Digital MOT

Our Digital MOT will help you review your online safety. By answering a few simple questions about how you use the internet you can find out the most important steps you can take to protect your devices and stay safe online.

You can also repeat the Digital MOT using the age of your child to get information about how to best support your child.