How to keep your child safe on the internet (including games and social media)
Talk about it (and often)
The first and best thing you can do with your child is to talk to them! Ask them about why they want to be online and how they connect with others. Tell them about your fears and what you need to feel more comfortable about their safety. Talk about what they can do if something ever happens or if they see anything inappropriate online and practise the steps together. Keeping channels of communication open will make them more likely to come to you if they ever see something upsetting.
Screens where you can see them
Rather than giving a child an iPad to go take off with them wherever, consider having a shared central computer (like in the living room). This way you can keep an eye on what they’re up to – and they’ll be less likely to search for anything they know they shouldn’t. Make this the only place where they can go on the internet.
Set clear rules (together)
What are some rules that will make you feel more comfortable with them using the internet? Consider what your boundaries are and ask them about what they think some fair rules might be as well. Will there be limits to screen time? Will there be some apps or games that are a ‘hard’ no? Do they need to show you who their ‘friends’ are on social media apps? Deciding on some clear boundaries together will help keep them safe (and in check).
You might say: ‘I know we’ve talked recently about you getting on Fortnite/Tiktok. That’s okay, but before you sign up I’d like to set up some rules to keep you safe. Do you understand why that might be important? What do you think some fair rules around using games and social media might be? I was thinking one would be that you show me your ‘friends’ who add you. How do you feel about that?’
Make them aware of their ‘digital footprint’
Just because in some apps a photo or post can disappear after 30 seconds or 24 hours, doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been captured. Young people need to understand that once something is up on the internet, it’s permanent—there can always be screen captures or anything else. Because of this, they always need to think carefully before putting anything online. This isn’t just for images or photos of themselves, but also the language they use; others will see inappropriate or abusive language. Better to err on the side of caution than to regret something later.
No personal information
Because of the above point, it’s so important that kids know that no personal information should ever be shared online – especially in public places like social media posts. This is a good hard and fast rule to have, and can include things like phone number, address, and whatever else you decide.
Know your parental controls
Some games, apps, wifis and devices will have certain controls that will block access to certain things that aren’t appropriate for children. We recommend spending some time and doing a bit of research to see what is within your control (you can start by reading this page from the eSafety Commissioner). Of course, these won’t work as a magic blocker against all harmful things on the internet – but it can help.
No sexual conversations – and tell an adult
This is another one we recommend being a hard rule that should be talked about a lot. It’s also why body safety and knowing about private body parts is so important! Children need to know that if they see – or if anyone talks to them about – anything to do with private parts, they should look away and come tell an adult straight away. If any stranger is asking to see any photos at all, that can be a warning sign. Some kids might worry they’ll be laughed at or get into trouble if this happens to them, so it’s so vital we tell our children that it’s always okay to come to a trusted adult and that they’ll never be punished.
You might say:
‘You know how I’ve spoken to you before about how if anyone ever asks to see or touch or shows you their private parts, that you must come and tell me or another trusted adult straight away? Well, it’s very important you know that rule applies to the internet as well. If anyone ever shows you anything involving – or even speaks about – private parts, you need to turn off the device and come to me or a trusted adult straight away.’
Know who they’re talking to (and no strangers)
Get them to show you who they’re talking to and who they’re adding on their games and social media apps. It’s not an invasion of privacy to at least ask to be shown who they’re talking to, and before adolescence, we would argue it’s okay to ask to see at least some of their conversations – especially if it’s someone that you don’t know of in their real life. On this point, all of their social pages and games (where possible) should be set to ‘private’.
Add them on your own socials
If you have some of the same social media or even games apps as they do – add them! Kids will be more likely to be aware of what they’re posting if they know mum or dad can see it too.
Keep on top of apps
SnapChat? TikTok? Roblox? Minecraft? It can feel like technology is constantly evolving and there are always new apps out there. But it helps if you can keep on top of at least the most popular sites and apps that kids are visiting. This can be as simple as looking up something your child mentions, or every now and again just doing a search or two online to see what’s popular right now. Have a read about these apps. Do they have any child safety features? What are the worrying parts of them? Knowing what your kids are using will help you be prepared.
Watch out for cyberbullying
Of course, with interactions with other people online comes the worries and risks of cyberbullying. We can’t hide our children away from the world, nor the internet, so the best we can do is be prepared and set up channels of communication so that they feel they can come to us if something is wrong. Have a chat with your child about what cyberbullying looks like and why it isn’t okay, and keep an eye out for the signs that they may be being bullied (like withdrawing from social activities, even online).