How safe are you online? Top tips for parents and carers

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How to help keep kids (and ourselves!) safe online

Hands up, who got or given new tech for Christmas? And who struggled to use it but the kids knew first time? How do they do that?!

The internet can be an amazing place, packed full of learning, exploration and social opportunities, but how can we make sure we all stay safe online?

child with phone

How much tech use is too much?

Tech can be really addictive. For children and for grown-ups alike. Did you know that children aged between three and four spent an average of eight hours and 18 minutes on the internet a week in 2016. By their early teens, children spent more than 20 hours a week online.

That said, ask yourself how long you actually spend online, how many times you look at your phone in a day and what you aren’t doing instead... Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical and consulting psychologist at Harvard, interviewed more than 1,000 kids from the ages of 4 to 18. She talked to hundreds of teachers and parents in preparation for her book ‘The Big Disconnect, Protecting children and family relationships in the digital age’ .

"One of the many things that absolutely knocked my socks off," she says, "was the consistency with which children — whether they were 4 or 8 or 18 or 24 — talked about feeling exhausted and frustrated and sad or mad trying to get their parents' attention, competing with computer screens or iPhone screens or any kind of technology, much like in therapy you hear kids talk about sibling rivalry’ Food for thought for all parents and carers!

Every family will have different ideas about what is too much time, and due to the emerging nature of teach, there is limited evidence on the impact of using tech and recommendations, however it is maybe worth considering more along the lines of what aren’t we all doing when we are busy flicking around our tablets or phones? Bedtime stories? Talking as a family or getting out and about?

family using phones

It’s of course about getting the balance right between giving freedoms, independence and protecting privacy, whilst understanding what is safe, agreeing boundaries and supervising online activity and being a role model for good practice.

Keeping Safe Online

The internet has given us all fantastic opportunities. Children can develop the digital literacy skills they need and have the opportunity to use the internet and social networking. Never has it been so easy to keep contact with family overseas, or (much to most medical staff’s dismay), consult ‘Dr Google’ on any health concerns.

But alongside the benefits there are inherent risks in being online and it’s our responsibility as adults to educate ourselves and children about using the internet safely. Children and young people need to be aware about the risks they might face and give them strategies for dealing with any issues they come up against. This could range in severity from understanding that not everything on the internet is fact, to content being inappropriate, people not being who they say they are, online bullying and the risk of childhood sexual exploitation.


young person on phone

Agreeing boundaries

As with everything, open communication is really important. By being interested and present when children are online and by playing games together there is more opportunity for discussion and, as parents or carers, you can help children understand and manage online behaviour in a positive way.

Agree some family rules about screen time, and about what’s OK to do and what’s not, where and when devices can be used and how long for. As a family, discuss staying safe online and why it is important - for everyone. Getting buy-in from everyone from the outset can prevent arguments further down the line (this is not 100% guaranteed!).

Try some ‘what if’ scenarios. Encourage the children to talk to you if they encounter something that makes them feel uncomfortable and reinforce that if they come to you they won’t be in trouble. There are some useful websites to help you with this, check the links at the end of the blog.

Most schools will cover internet safety as part of the curriculum, so talk to the school and see what they are saying so you can reinforce the key messages at home too. Joint learning involving adults and children can help to reinforce messaging and can be the basis for rules and joint understanding of risks and how to manage them together.

Young people on phones

Top tips for staying safe online. This goes for grown-ups too!

  • Be share aware.
  • Don’t post any personal information or passwords online. Make your passwords hard to guess.
  • Keep your privacy settings on high.
  • Think carefully about the pictures you post, only share pictures that you would be happy to be completely public, even within closed, secret or 1:1 conversations, as once online they can be saved and shared onwards
  • Particularly important for children and young people is not make friends or connections with unknown people. Not everyone online is who they say they are and there have been many instances of young people in contact with inappropriate adults who have posed as a child or young person of a similar age to them. Be confident in blocking people and telling someone if they make you feel uncomfortable.
  • Children and young people need to know that they shouldn’t  meet up, or share any details about their address or phone number with people they’ve  met online, and they should  let a parent, carer or teacher know if someone has asked you to meet them.
  • Think carefully about what words you use before you post something online. Be respectful of other people’s views.
  • Rules about only using  devices in a shared family area, such as the living room can help keep younger ones safer and makes a watchful eye easier.
  • Most importantly, young people should be assured that if they see something online that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, they should leave their device and tell an adult straightaway.

Find your way with parental controls

You can set up parental controls on most tech. It’s important to do so, as a seemingly innocuous search can produce some ‘interesting’ results. Parental controls mean that you can block content easily that is not suitable for children to see. Generally, they are easy to set up, but will vary from device to device. Check the guidance provided by the manufacturer.

You can set different controls for different family members too, so your 9 year old isn’t restricted to just playing Peppa Pig. Unless they want to of course!

You can get apps for your devices which control screen time, restrict websites visited, block calls and texts, control which apps are used and downloaded, and prevent in-game purchases being made. You can also get apps which will record the devices activity and will give you a breakdown at the end of each day.  


Social media: be share aware

Part of online safety education includes not sharing personal details, photos, and understanding that people online aren’t always who they say they are.

For older children, teach them how to use privacy settings, or ways to block other users or content and how to report anything upsetting. Asking someone you know to find you on social media and seeing how much they can see of your details is a quick and easy way to check privacy settings too

Be aware that companies collect and sell data, and may even own your images that you post. Who reads all the Ts and Cs for every app and site we visit? Maybe we should all pay more attention. The Children’s Commissioner recently pointed out that many children aged 8-11 had unknowingly signed over rights to their data, including private messages and pictures which could then be sold on. Worldwide.

Whilst most people are familiar with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, new social networking sites are emerging all the time. Snapchat seems to be favoured amongst teenagers, whereas Facebook is used less so. Get down with the kids and find out what your child's classmates use (or know about) and do a bit of research about them. Most social networks have a minimum age of 13, but this does not seem to be rigidly enforced by the sites.

NetAware [] have reviewed over 50 (yes over 50!) social networking sites that young people use, and includes useful comments from children aged 8-12 about each network.

Think about all the other sites they can now access as a result of having a social networking profile. How many websites now ask you to sign in using Facebook? What content do they offer and is it suitable?


Staying ‘appy

They all want the latest apps, or what “everybody else” has got. So how do you decide what is suitable?

Decide together as a family what apps are going to be downloaded to devices.

Read the reviews, are the apps suitable for the age group? Some games will have a PEGI (Pan European Game Information - 3, 7, 12, 16 and 18) rating relating to the suitability for a specific age group. But just because it has age guidance added, ask if is it suitable for YOUR child. Common Sense Media is a great website for checking why a rating has been given and others parents views (see link below)

Is there a cost to download the app or is it free? Be aware of in-app purchases and advertising within games. Some, but not all of these, can be controlled using parental controls.

Find out if there is an integrated chatroom or community within the app. If there is, ask yourself how you could monitor activity. This applies to game consoles too, as many permit multi-player games over the internet and talking to other gamers.

If you can- try it yourself first and see what you think!

If you decide an app is not suitable, clearly explain the reasons why, Common sense media or other review websites can be helpful to ‘back up’ your reasons for older children.

Foster dad and teenagers

Adoptive and Fostering families

There can be additional challenges posed by the online environment for children in living in adoptive or fostering families. Sometimes, dependent on the circumstances of the adoption or foster placement, there may be a potential risk to the child or young person if they made contact with, or had contact made by some members of their birth family.

Depending on the background of the young person, they may be more vulnerable online, or be unaware of safe online boundaries to observe. Contact can be sometimes difficult to manage and relatives for whom the courts have decided shouldn’t be in contact with the child or young person may directly find them online if they are using social media. Sadly, some children may have been targeted and suffered from childhood sexual exploitation and may have been moved to a different area to sever ties with perpetrators- it is crucial in these situations to have very clear boundaries and monitoring to help keep them safe

Conversely, of course, the internet can be a valuable source of support, advice and guidance when used in a safe way. If children or young people are living separately to friends and family, or if there has been a change in school it can be a great way to stay in touch and keep relationships maintained.

Our adoption and fostering team provide specific training, support, guidelines and agreements on internet use and social media for adoptive and fostering families to help us to work together to help keep everyone safe.

Enjoy your adventures online!

Useful links

To find out more about fostering for Coventry City Council, give the team a call today on 024 7683 2828 or enquire online 

Foster for Coventry logo

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