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How to talk about internet safety with children and young people – Safer Internet Day 2022

This year Safer Internet Day will take place on February 8th. Safer Internet Day is a day to raise awareness of internet safety and to provide children and adults with information on how to remain safe in the online world. The theme for 2022 is ‘All fun and games? Exploring respect and relationships online’. 

Safer internet day is celebrated in over 100 different countries and is coordinated here in the UK by the UK Safer Internet Centre. The purpose of the annual Safer Internet Day is to raise awareness of the dangers of the internet and encourage people of all ages to navigate the digital world responsibly, respectfully and creatively. To add to this year’s conversation, we are sharing tips on how you can discuss internet safety with the children and young people in your care.

How to talk about internet safety with children – 5 essential tips

Educating children and young people about the potential dangers of the internet is extremely important. In the digital world we live in, it is best to provide children with all the knowledge they need to stay safe online, even if you are raising them away from screens and WiFi enabled devices. The internet isn’t going anywhere and it is best practice to equip children with all the knowledge they need, this will help them to safely and respectfully use the internet right from the very start. 

Here are 5 tips for parents and carers on how to discuss internet safety with the children they care for: 

  1. Begin conversations early – You don’t need to wait for a child to be using social media before you discuss the pros and cons of platforms such as Instagram and TikTok. Also, warning your child about hackers and trolls, phishing and viruses, before they start spending more time online is important for their safety. If a child is using the internet or showing an interest in getting online, share as much knowledge and resources as you can. By preparing your child for the potential risks and dangers of cyberspace, they will know what to do to keep themselves protected and away from trouble
  1. Be honest – Age appropriate conversations about the dangers of the internet may feel like scaremongering or even awkward at times, but honesty is needed at all times when discussing the internet. For younger children, make it clear you have put parental controls in place and using appropriate language for their age explain why those controls are being used. For older children and teenagers, you will need to be honest when discussing grooming, online bullying and digital pornography. These conversations may not be easy but they are essential for children to know what is and is not acceptable behaviour from others and themselves online. 
  1. Answer questions and encourage conversation – Learning about online safety doesn’t need to feel like you are lecturing your children. As well as providing them with the facts they need, welcome any questions they may have and listen to their thoughts and concerns. Keep the conversation open and free of judgement and look at internet safety resources together so you all can build a greater understanding of staying safe online. 
  1. Demonstrate online safety – Children often learn best when they see someone perform a task first, rather than just listening to instructions. To keep your child safe from online bullying on social media, show them how to access the block button, how to report an abusive account and how to adjust their privacy settings so only their friends and family can access their profile. For children just starting out online, demonstrate how to create a strong password and why this is important. 
  1. Create rules together – A big part of avoiding the dangers of the internet is to spend less time on the internet. Research shows that prolonged time spent online can be detrimental to a child’s mental health and screen time should be limited. Caregivers will likely be met with resistance if the internet is made completely off limits and the online world has become intertwined with the offline world over recent years – it would be difficult and unnecessary to avoid it altogether. Also, whilst there are dangers, the internet can be an extremely useful and interesting place. Set some ground rules for using WiFi enabled devices. For example, you could set a rule in place that there are no screens to be used during meal times, or after 9pm. Talk with the children and young people in your life and try to create a few key rules, purposefully put in place to protect their safety and well-being. 

To help parents and caregivers discuss internet safety with the children in their care, the UK Safer Internet Centre have provided several useful resources on their website. The internet can be an amazing tool to aid education and communication but it is important that we do not gloss over the risks and dangers. We hope you have found this article useful and it helps you to start discussing internet safety with the children and young people in your care. 

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