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For parents, the internet can be both a wonderful and scary place. Whether it’s playing online games with their friends, watching silly videos on YouTube or researching school projects, children can have lots of fun and learn so much online. However, the reality is that the internet comes with lots of risks for children.
With things constantly changing online, it can be a minefield for parents to keep on top of what your child is seeing and doing. It may be tempting to ban the internet until they are older, but so much of the world is now online so it’s important for children to learn how to navigate the online world safely.
From apps that can give parents the support they need to ensure their child is safe, to how to talk to children about the dangers of social media, we have researched the top tips for internet safety.
During our research, we consulted online experts, including the internet safety app NetHabit, and scoured our Mumsnet forums for advice from parents who’ve been where you are now.
Here are our nine tips for protecting children on the internet.
Be open with your children
It can be tempting to shield children from the dangers of everyday life, but to keep them safe online it’s important to explain to them the things they should and shouldn’t do when using the internet. Talk to them about the websites they use and the online dangers - the younger you do this the better. Keep talking to them about it as they get older as the internet and how they use it will constantly change.
If something does go wrong, you want your child to be able to come to you rather than hide it. Be sure to explain to them that sometimes you can accidentally end up somewhere you shouldn't be online so that they don’t feel scared to tell you.
If you’re not sure how to broach the subject with your child, NetHabit, an app which helps parents improve the online safety and wellbeing of their children, offers simple and effective step-by-step support tailored for your family. The app can provide assistance for children aged 2-14, prompting you to have regular conversations and build better online habits with your children.
What Mumsnetters say
“We regularly talk about phones and internet dangers - constant reminders that nothing you send is private and one screenshot can be sent to lots of people in seconds so be careful what you send. You might trust people but falling outs happen frequently at their age and it’s very easy to say things via text/Whatsapp that you wouldn’t ever say in person.” Ionacat
These are basic guidelines you should all follow when using the internet. Make sure to set a good example and stick to them yourself. You could start by going online together to show them how to use the internet safely and appropriately.
If possible, keep the computer in a shared area. This will reduce the chance of them talking to strangers or going onto a website they shouldn’t. Also make sure to monitor time spent on smaller screens, such as iPads and phones.
You could set time limits for how long they are allowed to spend online - some tablets let you set a timer so it turns off when their time is up, or a set amount of games they can play before turning it off.
What Mumsnetters say
“Make sure you are clear with her it can be checked by you at any time and she can't change the pin without your permission. Regular chats about safe behaviour etc. It's very easy to wander into uncomfortable places on the internet. Rules around private/public etc. Care around what information she puts out there. You're best off teaching her how to look after herself.” Beamur
Make sure your devices are secure
There are various ways you can protect your devices and children from online hackers and other dangers. This includes setting up a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which restricts and monitors what your kids access online, encrypting your internet traffic to protect you from hackers, whether you’re using your devices at home or on public wifi networks.
Your ISPs (internet service providers) may also provide parent-controls, or you can install parental control software, which allows you to monitor and restrict what your children do online, such as blocking and filtering websites, recording their activities and setting time limits.
Also, make sure to disable in-app purchases. Many parents have learnt this lesson the hard way when receiving a huge bill that their child has racked up playing games online.
What Mumsnetters say
“Use iPhone parental controls to set time limits, parental control on downloading apps, sleep time, individual app time limits. There’s a good how to guide on the Apple website if you Google. Either remove the web browser or limit it to white listed sites using Quostodio. Consider having no social media and no access to the camera, or at least no way of sending photos.” ShortDaze
Keep up to date with the latest threats
With the internet constantly changing and new games popping up all the time, it can feel very overwhelming to keep track of the latest online threats.
If your child likes to use various websites, games and social media platforms, it’s important to keep on top of the dangers they could be facing online so that you can talk to them about it.
Rather than having to scroll through news sites every day to check for the latest threats, NetHabit sends out news alerts letting you know the latest online safety news and shares advice about what you can do about them.
What Mumsnetters say
“Luckily our school are supportive of online safety, had lots of good videos and info from them - it's a minefield with the eldest. He's already aware about not sharing info (and that people might it be who they seem online), ensuring chats are off on online games and he's only allowed to be online downstairs with us.” Riskybiscuits
Monitor the apps and websites they’re using
The best way of knowing what your child is facing online is to explore the websites and apps they use regularly. This could be playing the games they play, getting your own account on social media, such as Instagram and Tik Tok, and scrolling through websites they like to go on.
This will help you make a decision about how safe these websites are and the risks associated with them. As children get older though, it may be harder to monitor which sites they’re using, especially if they use phones and tablets in their rooms. It’s only natural that they will want more privacy. This is why it is important to keep the conversation about online safety open and update them on the latest threats and how they can protect themselves. You may find it helpful to set the device so that apps have to be approved before they’re downloaded.
NetHabit offers personalised step-by-step support targeted at your family’s needs, guiding you through these sometimes tricky conversations and helping you ensure all your household devices are safe for your family. We know how difficult it can be to keep up with all the things your child is into online and how this changes as they get older. NetHabit is all about keeping it simple and helping you do all you can as a parent to keep your children as safe as possible as they grow.
Regularly check their devices
This could be one of the rules you agree on. It can be hard to keep track of the websites they are using, so explain to them that you want to check their devices to make sure they are still using the internet safely.
This will help you keep track of their internet use but also make sure they are not using sites they shouldn’t - whether this is accidental or on purpose. Make sure you have access to the sites they use, especially if they are password protected. You could do random spot checks or some parental controls can send you regular reports about their internet activity.
What Mumsnetters say
“Access to everything and knowing her password and checking messages and stuff at random. It might feel intrusive but it was what I agreed with my daughter. She’s nearly 13 now and I still check periodically. She knows this. Be VERY aware that new social media apps pop up quicker than you can say she can’t have them. Also, I said to my DD that I will not be angry with her if she tells me the truth, but if she lies then that’s the end of the phone. Good luck.” hopingforabrighterfuture2021
Use kid-safe browsers and websites
When it comes to browsing the internet, search engines can open up a whole world of websites and content your child should not be exposed to.
Instead you can get them to use child-friendly browsers, such as Kiddle, the kids version of Google. These browsers block out adult content so your child only finds appropriate content for their age, some are even password protected.
You can find lots of child-friendly websites online where children can learn and play and, if your child is a YouTube fan - who hasn’t been made to watch an unboxing video at some point? - you can opt for YouTube kids, which minimises the risk of children clicking on any inappropriate videos.
It is also important to remember the internet can be accessed through more and more devices, especially as children get older. Games consoles are often left unrestricted and children have access via televisions and possibly other devices owned by grandparents for example.
Teach kids how to use social media safely
Social media websites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tik Tok are great platforms for sharing fun content, keeping in touch with friends and discovering more about people or hobbies they’re interested in.
However, there are risks that children need to be aware of before entering into the world of social media. Most sites have an age limit of 13 before they can register, but some children do lie about how old they are and join up at a younger age.
Children can share photos, videos, links and personal information which can expose them to cyberbullying and even online predators. Talk to them about the risks, making sure their account is private so that only their friends and people they know can see what they post.
Teach them that whatever they share, whether it’s a photo or video, can be saved and shared elsewhere - and can stay online for years - so be careful what you post and don’t share any personal information, such as where you live, go to school or any passwords. Make sure to turn off their location on social media too.
It’s also important to show them how to behave so that they don’t become a cyberbully themselves. When you feel your child is ready to open a social media account, NetHabit can guide you through it so your child understands how to use it safely and responsibly.
The app costs just £4 a month, but you can try it out with a seven day free trial. If you sign up for the year, you get a 30% discount. To start, you simply take a free test to show how your family is affected by online safety concerns and you get a score based on your answers, which improves as you complete tasks.
What Mumsnetters say
“Doing a online safety course was the easiest way to get the kids to understand the risks of being too trusting on the internet. If your kids are older and into making videos for their social media, make sure they are aware to not film in school uniform, or in front of their homes, and to never say their full names. Also, check what videos they are uploading and go through the comments to make sure they aren't being bullied.” Tillytown
Don’t connect with strangers
Children can connect with their friends online, whether it’s through online gaming or on social media, but this also means that they can connect with strangers too.
Turn chat rooms off on games and ensure they only play with their friends online. Talk to them about the dangers of speaking to people you don’t know and explain that they might not be who they say they are. Also, make sure they know how to block people online.
Keep an eye on who they are sending and accepting follow requests on social media. While it can be tempting to connect with lots of people online, this increases the chance of them talking to someone they shouldn’t and their photos and personal information being shared. Encourage them to talk to you if something doesn’t feel right.
What Mumsnetters say
“We've had a lot of support from school with online safety - in primary school here they do assemblies and show video clips and talk about different scenarios with the children eg. if someone new starts talking to them online, or if they see something upsetting. At home we have screen time downstairs so it can be monitored, and we talk about what she's been on and get involved together so she knows she can come to me with any worries.” FlowerTink
The NetHabit app was designed and created to simplify the support and guidance parents need to improve their children's safety online.
Finding a balance between enabling the benefits of the online world and keeping them safe can be tough - from securing device settings, to open dialogue, to keeping informed of new threats, NetHabit's app is designed to provide you with a tailored list of to-do's to help make the world of online safety simple for your family.
Keeping your children safe online has never been harder. Balancing the dangers against all the benefits of the online world becomes more challenging as they get older, while new risks are always just around the corner. Having the right tools and information for your family as your children spend more time online is essential. Thankfully there is personalised help available through the new NetHabit app. With simple and effective step-by-step support that grows with your family and keeps you up to date, at least this bit of parenting is now a bit easier!