Digital Bookbug: 5 Ways to Keep Children Safe Online

Small boy looking at a mobile phone
Category: Bookbug

The internet can be a scary place for parents. Media reports of children running up huge bills by downloading in-app purchases, cyber-bullying and online dangers can quite understandably cause reluctance when allowing children to access technology. However, it isn’t all bad news. There are simple steps that parents can use to reduce risks and ensure that their child grows up to be a responsible digital citizen.

1. Use parental controls

Most tablets do not come set up child-friendly, but there are easy steps you can take to make sure your child cannot access what you don’t want them to. On an Apple device you can enable restrictions in Settings to turn off in-app purchases and select access to music, podcasts, films and apps by age. You can also restrict which websites you want your child to access. Some android tablets let you create different profiles for users of different ages, or allow you to set up restrictions in Settings. We go through this process when working with parents on our digital programmes and it greatly reduces their concerns about allowing their children to use technology by giving them control over what their child can and can’t access.

2. Stranger danger

It’s important to talk to your child from an early age about staying safe online, in the same way you would talk to them about safety in the real world. Teaching them some basics as soon as they start accessing the internet will benefit them as they grow. For example, never accept a friend request from someone you don’t know, or talk to a stranger in chat rooms or social media, and never give out personal information. Teach them to always talk to an adult if something or someone makes them feel uncomfortable when they are online.

3. Remember your feet

Introduce your child to the concept of a digital footprint - what’s said on the net stays on the net. It’s very important that as they get older and expand their use of the internet that children understand that what they post online is permanent. This includes pictures too. It can be useful to have your laptop situated in a place where you can oversee what your child does online, or restrict use of tablets to a communal area whilst they are still young.

4. Be kind

Teach your child to be kind online. If it’s not nice to say something to a person directly, it’s not nice to say it on the internet - your behaviour online should reflect how you behave in real life. Learning this early can help to reduce the incidents of cyber-bullying when children are older.

5. Keep yourself up to date

The internet is continually evolving and new apps, games and ways of engaging are constantly appearing. By being aware of the risks yourself, you will be able to support and navigate your child through the online world. And remember that despite the risks, technology can be a hugely useful and engaging tool to support your child’s development, with many apps and websites available to support literacy, numeracy etc in a fun, interactive way. Use technology together to explore and create and stimulate your child’s minds alongside other forms of play and you will be teaching them skills that will last them throughout their lives. Most importantly, have fun!

Find out more about Safer Internet Day which is taking place on Tuesday 6th February 2018.

Main photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

Mhairi Cook

Mhairi Cook is a Lifelong Learning Coordinator (Communities) Economy and Communities in North Ayrshire.