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The internet is a mind boggling, wondrous thing isn’t it? After all, you wouldn’t be reading this if it didn’t exist! For a child, having the internet at their fingertips offers infinite possibilities for discovery.
Our children are the first generation to grow up with the internet all around them. From a young age, surfing the net becomes second nature, along with all the scrolling and swiping that entails.
But like most brilliant inventions, the online world has potential downsides. As a parent, it’s wise to be clued up on internet safety for kids. As NotOnMute says: “Just as I wouldn’t let a teenage learner driver on to a busy dual carriageway for their first lesson but would keep them to the quiet roads until they had some idea what they were doing, I’m not letting a child on to the internet with no controls over what they can see and who can contact them.”
Carolyn Bunting, CEO of Google Partner, Internet Matters, says: “The internet offers children endless possibilities and experiences and it’s vital that parents help them explore safely.
"Setting parental controls on your child’s devices is an important first step but it should also be a trigger for having ongoing conversations with them and helping them find a balance between the online and offline world. These conversations ensure children feel in control of their online experiences while helping parents understand their child’s digital life and stay aware of potential issues.”
So what are the online risks to be aware of when it comes to our children? Here are a few to bear in mind - do try not to feel completely overwhelmed:
Time wasting and loss of focus
Effects on overall behaviour
After reading all that, you’d be forgiven for disconnecting your Wi-Fi and chucking all your family’s devices in the nearest wheelie bin. But as with most parenting issues, a balanced approach is best. Refusing all access to the internet just isn’t practical for children whose schoolwork may be linked to online portals and educational sites, and of course, many of these threats exist in the offline world too.
Internet safety for kids is a much discussed topic on our Talk boards. There are plenty of helpful tips from Mumsnetters when it comes to keeping youngsters safe online such as using Google Family Link - a family parental controls service by Google that allows parents to manage their kids’ devices including restricting content, approving or disapprove 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, knowledge is power - and parents need to start the conversations around internet safety for kids. Talking freely and openly is key - this not only helps your child understand the risks of the internet, it will also help them feel comfortable coming to you if they’re worried about something online.
Google’s website Families.google says that while it’s OK for parents to be flexible around screen time, it’s important that everyone - kids and adults - learn and know the limits. Google Families also recommends asking your kids the following basic, open-ended questions to encourage a constructive chat:
Why is it good to have healthy online habits?
Shall we agree how long you spend online, together?
How do you know when you’ve had too much screen time?
Staying age appropriate
According to ONS, almost 9 in 10 children (89%) aged 10 to 15 years said they went online every day. While most social media platforms have a minimum age limit of 13 years old (although it’s always wise to check the age rating of individual apps to be sure), many children will already be active online, gaming and chatting to their friends or family online from a much younger age.
The risks associated with the internet vary according to the age of your child. You should also always take the age of your child into account when starting the conversation about internet safety for kids. What makes perfect sense to a 14-year-old may go completely over a seven-year-old’s head or even frighten them.
With all this in mind, here’s our age-by-age advice on keeping your child safe on the internet - and talking to them - with handy tips from Mumsnetters.
Internet safety for 6 to 10 year olds
“My 9 year old only Googles under my supervision - stuff like Pokemon, Minecraft etc.” FrozenPonds
Children are likely to be getting to grips with reading and writing around this age. Yet, they may already be well versed in accessing the internet and using voice assistants to find what they’re looking for. While that’s certainly an impressive skill, it leaves open the risk that they inadvertently coming across harmful, disturbing and age inappropriate content.
When it comes to making sure your child only sees content that’s appropriate for their age , UptownFunk00 advises: “Try to remember to turn Safe Search on in Google so any images will be tame.”
When they’re young, you may opt to allow only supervised access to the internet via a family computer. You may also choose to sit beside them as they surf. While there may also be a limit as to how many renditions of Baby Shark you can stomach, spending time online with your child helps strengthen feelings of trust and keep you up to date with what they’re interested in.
Rather than behaving like the internet gatekeeper, try to make supervised internet time as fun as possible. Cheer them on when they’re playing their favourite game or ask them to show you the ropes.
When it comes to starting the conversation around internet safety, parents on our Talk board advise starting the conversation as early as possible, regularly chatting about the internet and gradually building on it over the years as your child matures. Mumsnetter MsMarvellous says: “We have already spoken to her about trust, and how we will expect access to anything she is on as she gets older, until she is approaching adulthood. We talked in a light way about why and have set up a 'kid safe' log in on the computer. We also have the laptop in a family space.”
Internet safety for preteens
“Google Family Link has been very good so far. The threat of locking devices, no bonus time etc. has been quite an incentive for good behaviour.” Shorthairlady
Aah, that tricky stage sandwiched between early childhood and the teenage years. It’s a real time of change as your child becomes more aware of their place in the world. Your child may start losing interest in watching cartoons online and may care more about fitting in with peers and older siblings. They may start nagging you to let them have a social media account, even if they’re under the minimum age allowed, insisting that ‘everyone else in the class is already doing it. They may want to game online with friends.
Meanwhile, new social media apps are emerging quicker than you can keep a handle on things… and your child won’t want to be left behind. Now’s the time to wise up and find out exactly what all those apps actually entail. While you don’t have to sign up to any particular platform yourself, take the time to navigate the landscape so that you know exactly where your preteen is heading. As MsMarvellous advises: “I would say the best tip is to use stuff yourself so you know how it works. Download and tinker with the apps that are current as she grows. If you have knowledge you can provide the best support and sensible limits.”
When it comes to tackling issues - such as your preteen intentionally seeking inappropriate content - Mumsnetters, such as PrettyBrightFireflies, say that you need to establish firm boundaries and ground rules: “Put the highest level of parental control on electronics, make sure they’re not used in bedrooms, and that he knows he’s not afforded privacy when he uses them (I've not looked at my DDs internet history for years but she knows that i can, and that if she refuses, the device will be confiscated).”
Internet safety for teenagers
“[Google Family Link] is free and I love that I can set time limits in my daughter on her mobile and that she has to get me to agree her apps. She uses her own Google account on laptop so that might be the issue for me, however I regularly admin block her (child pin login) in our shared laptop if she oversteps what we've agreed. I set up Google Family link when she was 11 before she hit 13 and if she tries to remove it from her phone without my agreement her whole phone locks down!” Hidinginstaircupboard
As with all age groups, setting boundaries is important for teenagers, even if this age group is likely to know far more about the latest apps and online crazes than you ever will.
Many teens will have multiple social media accounts. While your teenager may cringe at the notion of you policing their internet usage, it’s actually more important than ever before to keep a check on their online activity. As this age group tends to have more real life freedom, going out and about on their own or with friends, it’s vital you know they’re not planning on secretly meeting up with someone they’ve met online. Reinforce the fact that while social media can be a great way to connect with others, not everyone is who they say there are on the internet.
YeOldeTrout says: “imho, it's better to teach them to block, ignore and only 'friend' nice people rather than think that everyone on SM is nasty and to be distrusted. Teach them the tools to use SM wisely rather than think they have no ability to manage SM.”
Also, chat to them about the way they portray themselves on social media - after all, their digital footprint will follow them around all their lives, dodgy haircut pics and all. Some parents insist on being friends with their children on social media, even if only as a ‘silent friend’ in order to monitor things from afar. Mumsnetter stillmoving says: “Mine were allowed to use [social media] at that age. I think teaching them how to use it safely and having a good open relationship is better than a ban which serves no purpose at all. Teach them how to use things properly.”
Do's and don’ts for internet safety for kids
Google’s Be Internet Awesome campaign offers these tips for keeping your kids safe online. You can even download the campaign’s Be Internet Awesome pledge, sign it with your kids and stick it up in your home as a daily reminder that you’re working as a team to stay safe.
It’s Cool to Be Kind - The Internet is a powerful amplifier for spreading positivity - and also negativity. Kids can apply the concept of “treat others as you would like to be treated” to their actions online, creating positive impact for others and disempowering bullying.
Don't Fall for Fake - People and situations online aren’t always as they seem. Discerning between what’s real and what’s fake is vital for online safety.
Secure Your Secrets - Personal privacy and security are equally important online and offline. Safeguarding valuable information helps kids avoid damaging their devices, relationships and reputations.
When in Doubt, Talk It Out - One lesson that applies to all online encounters: when kids come across something questionable, they should feel comfortable telling a trusted adult. Parents can support this by fostering honest and open communication at home.
Further reading for parents
More helpful resources for parents surrounding conversations about internet safety with kids include the following: