Whether they’re going out, or going online – start the conversation
Most of us tend to think of our online and offline lives as separate, but children today are growing up with technology and the internet as a natural part of their lives. To them there isn't a separation. Its all just life. The internet is now part of the real world.
Talking to your child about what they do online is just as important as as asking where they are going when they go out with their friends. It can be difficult starting the conversation with your child about their online activities. Technology keeps changing and you might find it overwhelming trying to keep up with it all, but you don't need to. You just need to take an interest in what apps and games your child is using. That's the best place to start.
How to start the conversation
Ask your child what they are doing online and if you can take part. Why not ask to play their favourite game with them? If they see that you are taking a genuine interest they will be more willing to want to talk to you about it.
If you are thinking about getting your child a new device, that's the perfect opportunity to start a conversation. Ask them what they are going to use it for. What are they looking forward to doing?
Make sure that you explain to your child that you want them to enjoy the online world, but sometimes unsafe things happen online. You just want to keep them safe. Tell them why you are worried, so that they understand. Tell them that you can't control what is online and some things aren't appropriate for children to see.
Its important to set parental controls and security settings on all their devices, but they aren't 100% accurate and are no substitute for open and honest conversations with your child.
Agree some boundaries. If you establish them from the offset, the child understands what is expected of them. These conversations and boundaries should be mirrored with all family members.
Encourage conversations about not keeping secrets. People online might ask your child to keep their conversation a secret. Talk about what secrets mean in your house.
You could create a Family Online Agreement, which all family members sign up to, including the adults. This could include no phones at dinner time, and agreeing an appropriate time to come off line, especially before bedtime, with phones charging in another room. This agreement can change over time as your child gets older.
Make sure they know that if your child sees something online that upsets them, or makes them feel uncomfortable that they can always come to you. Make it clear that they shouldn't be worried about getting into trouble or getting their friends into trouble.
What does uncomfortable mean?
It's important to explain, especially to younger children, what is meant by ‘uncomfortable,’ by using language they will understand.
You could ask:
Have you ever seen anything that has made you feel scared, angry or worried?
Has something given you a funny feeling in your tummy, or kept you awake at night because you kept thinking about it when you're trying to fall asleep?
Conversations around online activity should take place often to encourage an open dialogue.
Regularly have open and honest conversations about:
- What they are doing online and who they are talking to.
- Remind them of the importance of not talking to or accepting friend requests from people they don’t know in real life.
- Encourage them to keep all personal information such as passwords, phone numbers, friend, school and home address details private.
- Remind them that the people they talk to online might not be who they say they are. It is very easy for people to set up accounts with fake names, identities and photos, to make us all believe that they are someone they are not.
- Warn them that the things they write and the photos they post online might be accessed by people other than their friends, if they don’t keep their accounts private.
- Highlight the risks of meeting people in person that your child only knows online. Meeting people in real life, that children and young people only know from being online, can pose many risks and children and young people should be encouraged to be open and honest with you or a trusted adult, if someone is asking to meet up with them in real life. (This can be very dangerous and children and young people should be encouraged to tell their parents or an adult they trust, if someone is asking to meet them.)
The fact that you are reading this shows that you care and are doing your best. You know your child better than anyone. Don’t worry about not always getting it right, but keep trying.
Make talking about what goes on online part of your daily conversations. You could mention things that you have seen online. Talking about it daily will make your child feel more relaxed about the topic and therefore more likely to come and speak to you about their online activities.
How to report an online concern
If something has happened to your child online you can make a report to the National Crime Agency for Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP). CEOP helps keep children, and young people safe from sexual abuse and grooming online.
You should always report if your child is or has been in contact with someone who is:
- Chatting online to your child about sex
- Asking them to do sexual things on webcam
- Asking to meet up if they’ve only met them online
- Requesting sexual pictures, asking for naked or partly naked pictures
- Forcing them into sexual activity
- Making them feel unsafe
- Asking them to do anything that's against the law
For information and guidance for parents of children and young people who have got in trouble online see the Parents Protect website.
If a crime is in progress or you think your child is in immediate danger always call 999.
Riley is 12 years old and he has been chatting to Alex through his Xbox for a couple of months. Alex seems really cool and is great at playing Call of Duty but there is something Riley hasn’t told his parents.
Alex asked for pictures of him, it started as a joke with Alex teasing him about not having a six pack but now it’s become more serious. Alex is saying if he doesn’t do things for him, he will share these on Snapchat with his friends. Riley thought Alex was nice but now feels scared. He doesn’t know what to do.
Alex is 12 years old and has an older brother Kaleb who is 15. Kaleb is in a gang and his friends come over all the time. Alex thinks they are really cool and like big brothers to him. A while ago they asked him to take some packages to another house. Alex did this and thought it was fine but now he is having to sit in awful houses that are dark and dirty and has seen people be stabbed and cut. Alex is terrified one day that will happen to him. The gang told him to get more youngers involved so he went online and started chatting to people that were friends of friends. He likes Riley and doesn’t want to get him into trouble but knows if he doesn’t then he will be asked to do more things.
Further useful information
Talking to your child about online safety - NSPCC:
Including age appropriate conversations and family resources.
Thank you to the Safe Project, Leeds for their input on the information on this page.