Expert editions vol. 5: How to keep your child safe online

child safety online

Photography by Jon Challicom

In this day and age, it seems our children are connected online from such a young age. From ipads to apps, this is something they are hardwired to grow up with from the earliest of years. But while the online world can bring an incredible wealth of learning, connections and dialogue, there are also other aspects to consider such how to keep our children safe when they are online. It is this that is the subject of this issue of Expert Editions, where I will be in conversation with Dr Julia Fossi, NSPCC Senior Analyst, Child Online Safety Team.

I have a two and a half year old – when do I need to start thinking about teaching her how to stay safe?

It all depends on when your child starts using the internet and their level of understanding, but it’s best if pre-school children only use the internet with parental supervision. You can look at apps and websites together that are specially aimed at young children and start to talk about staying safe online in the same way you introduce other safety topics like crossing the road.

What is the best way to broach the subject of staying safe with little ones, without causing anxiety?

Talking to your child – openly, and regularly – is the best way to help keep them safe online. You might find it helpful to start with a family discussion to set boundaries and agree what’s appropriate. Or you might need a more specific conversation about an app or website your child wants to use or something you’re worried about. If you’re not sure where to start then there are some tips on

What specific things should we be teaching our little ones with regards to safeguarding themselves?

A good start is to talk about what might be OK for children of different ages. Ask your child what sites or apps they like. Write a list, and look at them together. As children get older you can start to be specific about issues like privacy, blocking people or reporting things that make them feel uncomfortable. Explain that you’re always here to protect and help them online and off and reassure your child that they can always talk to you about anything that they are worried about.

What are the warning signs to look out for which may indicate a child might be experiencing inappropriate behaviour towards them?

It’s very hard to give a list of warning signs as it all depends on the individual child. You know your child best and as with any other issue you’ll be alert to changes in their mood or behaviour that suggest something might be wrong. Next time you’re talking about the internet mention that you understand the internet is a great place to be and that you’re just looking out for them. Tell them they should speak up and not keep secrets if something is worrying them. Reassure them that you’re interested in what they’ve seen online, sites and apps they visit, and that you’ll share the things you’ve seen too. Recognise that they’ll be using the internet for good reasons like researching homework, for example.

How worried do we need to be about the threat of other adults to our children? How do we keep this in perspective?

The risks are real but like offline risks we can take steps to protect our children. Today’s children have grown up online and parents need to make sure they are talking to their children about this world. It can be intimidating if you feel that your children know more than you but you don’t need to be a technical expert. It should be a two way conversation. Asking your children to show you how to do things will make them feel involved and valued and these kind of open, relaxed chats are the best environment to bring up safety issues as children will be less likely to put up barriers.

What should we do if we suspect inappropriate behaviour being directed at our child – either now, or in the future?

Talk to your child but also seek advice. And you can call call our O2 and NSPCC online safety helpline for free expert advice. If you think they are in immediate danger you should contact CEOP or call the police.

Any other important points to add?

The NSPCC has put together a wealth of  advice and tools you can use to help keep your child safe whenever and wherever they go online.

For more information about how you can keep your child safe both on and offline, visit the NSPCC’s website here

To explore previous issues in the Expert Editions series see here

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