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The safety of children while using the internet is a worry for every parent these days. Kids are learning to grow up in a world so intertwined with technology that at times, parents can feel baffled by how to navigate their child’s internet safety. Some may struggle to find a balance between letting their children use the internet while protecting them from its potential dangers.
With an online community of over eight million parents, we at Mumsnet understand just how much parents are really concerned about internet safety, and how they often feel ill-equipped to handle it. Nowadays, it can feel like kids learn how to use a tablet and play their favourite videos alongside their ABCs, colours and animals. Correction - they’re using a tablet to learn these.
All of us have become so reliant on the internet so quickly.
To delve deeper into this important topic, we invited Mumsnet users recently to share their biggest questions regarding their child’s online safety and presented them to industry and parenting experts at an interactive, roundtable policy discussion. We sat with parliamentarians and experts - including Google’s Katie O’Donovan, Minister for Tech Paul Scully MP, Carolyn Bunting CEO Internet Matters, parenting influencer Vicky Broadbent/Honest Mum, and Chris Elmore MP - to get under the skin of how good online safety and internet wellbeing policy should look for parents, and discussed how families can find the right balance for keeping children safe online.
The discussion explored five key themes that emerged from our Mumsnet talk thread: how parents' can find the right balance online - taking the advantage of education and social benefits for their children, while protecting them from the potential risks - the role of government and also the role of schools in internet safety and age appropriateness.
The government and online safety for kids
Ahead of the discussion, this Mumsnet user asked: “what I am not clear on is, what IS the responsibility of the internet company, the government and then the parent. Where are the lines?”
A main takeaway from the roundtable discussion is that online safety for kids is the responsibility of parents, schools and government. It’s important that the latter legislates to keep children safe online, and regulate the online space, but it’s also imperative that parents are clued-up about their child’s internet usage both at home and in school.
The online space is such a fast moving area that it’s not possible to legislate for everything in government, and so parents should understand the value of using the internet for their children - and how they can do so safely and responsibly.
As Chris Elmore MP shares, “governments of all different political colours move with the technology. It can’t just be that we have one bit of legislation and then nothing else happens. Because as tech moves, the government needs to move with it.
Tools available to help parents
There are several tools available to parents to help them ensure their children are safe while using the internet. Google’s Family Link is a family parental controls product by Google that allows parents to manage their children's devices, including restricting content, approving or disapproving apps, setting screen times and more.
As this Mumsnetter explains: “We use Google family link which means apps must be approved by the parent account and access can be set/timed/turned on or off from the parent account. Kids are 9&11 so we're still slightly more tech savvy than them…”
But while internet filters can help protect your child(ren), knowledge is power - and parents are encouraged to start conversations around internet safety for kids. After all, the likelihood is that at some point, your children will come across something you don’t want them to, so it’s imperative that you talk to them in advance of that and make sure they know they can come to you should they come across something that makes them uncomfortable or is inappropriate.
Google’s website Families.google and their Be Internet Awesome campaign are two very helpful resources parents can use to encourage an open, honest and healthy conversation with their kids about staying safe online.
Practical tips for parents
We hope you’ve found the above video and guide helpful in finding a balance between enjoying the internet’s benefits for children and their online learning, and keeping them safe and protected from inappropriate content.
In a nutshell, here are some practical tips for parents to keep in mind:
1. Stay informed
Make time on a regular basis to get clued-up with what your children are doing online, the apps they’re using, the videos they’re watching and how much time they spend doing so. Inviting them to share what they’re up to online with you, showing an interest, and even offering to join in the game they’re playing will help to build trust between you both.
2. Use the tools available
Make use of the various tools available to monitor your children’s time online, and prevent them from accessing inappropriate content online.
3. Don’t feel guilty
As Mumsnetter JBMumov2 rightly said, children “often learn from the content they are watching and most important for a parent, it keeps them entertained.” So parents, don’t feel guilty about allowing your children to use technology.
But do remember that if you feel uncomfortable with the amount of time they’re spending online or in front of screens - remember, you have the power to change it. A good question to start with is “shall we agree how long you spend online, together?”
4. Talk to your children
Have an open discussion with them about what they might come across, and let them know that they can come to you if they see something that makes them feel uncomfortable.
5. Revise these tips as your child grows
Protecting your primary school aged child while using the internet will look very different to the parental controls you may need for your teenager in high school. As parents, it’s important to have regular check-ins with your child as they grow; the content they consume online will change just as quickly as the apps they view it on.