How to Protect Your Child Online: 10 Steps to Parental Peace of Mind

As a first time parent, you worry about your newborn's every breath and sound, but as they grow those worries don't disappear, they just transfer to new concerns, and probably increase.  None more than over Internet safety.  From how much screen time to let them have and when, to how to protect their identity and personal information, and ensuring that they don't stumble across things that are inappropriate.  So how can you protect your kids, and give yourself peace of mind, this Safer Internet Day?

Recent research* by Equifax found that 41% of parents with a child aged 8 to 18 years do not have parental controls installed on the devices, such as tablets and smartphones, that their child uses; and 27% of parents with children aged 8 to 11 do not.  Worryingly, this leaves young, impressionable children exposed to the possibility of finding highly inappropriate content, even using simple, seemingly innocuous search terms like 'doggy' or 'bunny'.

The research also found that a quarter of children, some as young as 8, access the Internet in their bedroom, meaning parents are unlikely to know what their child is looking at or who they are talking to online.  Despite the minimum age for a Facebook account being 13, a third of 8 to 11 year olds surveyed admitted to having an account, while 18% said they had a Snapchat account, 17% Instagram, and 10% were on Twitter.

No-one is denying how useful the Internet is, full of educational resources, information, opinion, creativity and wonder - hey, some of us even make a living on it! - but safeguarding our children online has to be a priority as responsible parents.  For all its positive attributes, there is plenty to worry about  too, but we can all play a part in making the online world better and safer for our young people.

So how can you help your child stay as safe as possible online?

1. Turn on parental controls on all devices

Install parental controls on all your devices and turn on restricted mode on sites such as YouTube (bottom of the home page). You will need to do this on all devices in your home, including smartphones, tablets, computers, TVs and games consoles.

2. Protect

Download and install anti-virus and online security software which helps protect your computer from outside attacks, such as malware and viruses that could try to steal information off your computer.

3. Talk, talk, talk

Talk to your child, in an age appropriate way, about the risks, and encourage them to tell you if ever anything seems not right or makes them feel uncomfortable.  Explain and show them what an appropriate site might look like, show them what security tags look like and where to find them.

Address the issue of cyberbullying and explain what your child should do if it happens to them, or if they suspect their friend is having problems.  Discuss the issue regularly so any problems can be brought up in future.

4. Be social

Look online together with your child, engage in their browsing and social media usage.  Keep devices in a communal area, rather than off in their bedrooms alone.

Involve your children in all aspects of online activity, show them your work, involve them in ordering the supermarket shopping, doing the banking, buying a present or ordering flowers, researching days out or family activities, even booking your next holiday and planning the itinerary.  All of this shows children what appropriate sites look like, and the many varied uses of the Internet.

5. Restrict information

Remind your children to use different passwords for their accounts; not to share personal information such as their date of birth or address online; not to announce online when or where they are going on holiday, or their whereabouts when going out.

6. Be mysterious

When creating your password reset questions and answers, keep in mind how easy it might be to guess the answer.  If the information is readily available or easy to research, choose a more difficult question.  Don't write passwords down.

7. Don't share

Never share a PIN number, password or other details with anyone, and don't let others have access to your accounts.  Log out of accounts on phones, tablets and laptops before leaving them with anyone else.

Never give your personal information to someone you don't know well in the real world.  If someone suggests meeting, arrange a public place in daylight and tell your parents and friends, preferably taking someone with you.

8. Set limits

With younger children, set time limits and save a few appropriate sites for each child as bookmarks.  Ask them to check with you if they want to access sites outside these limits.

For older children, lock or set monetary limits on app and game purchases, on all devices, to prevent huge bills being racked up.  Remove your credit card information from cookies (e.g. Amazon) if you think spending might become an issue!

9. Respect yourself

Encourage your child to respect themselves and their body, and to think very carefully before sharing photos online or engaging in sexting etc.  Remind them that if they feel under pressure to do so, they should tell you immediately.

10. Educate yourself

For parents who only use the web for work and maybe Facebook, the techie world our children are growing up in can be a mystery.  Find out about Snapchat or Instagram, talk to your child about the sites they access and the information they browse for.  Help them with their homework, and their social life - and keep talking!

For more information and guidance, this NSPCC resource is very useful.

Safer Internet Day is celebrated globally each February.  It's aim is to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology for children and young people.  It highlights the issues young people face, and offers them and their parents advice on everything from privacy settings to cyberbullying and sexting.  Follow #SaferInternetDay or #sid2017 on social media to find out more.

* Research commissioned by Equifax, the consumer credit information expert.  Research was conducted by Censuswide: 501 Parents with children aged 8-11, 504 children aged 5-11, 500 parents aged 12-18 and 500 children aged 12-18.

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