10 expert tips to help children stay safe and responsible online

Children aren’t officially allowed to use most social media platforms until they are 13 – but the reality is, for many of them, it’s a part of the online world they’re venturing into much earlier.

YouGov research shows that nearly half of children (48%) are aware of social media by the age of seven, with a third saying they’d looked at or used social media by that age. And even when youngsters are technically old enough to have their own accounts, it can still be a tricky landscape to navigate.

For parents, the issue of protecting children online often focuses on safety – which is, of course, very important, but it’s not the only factor to consider.

“Talking to children about the dos and don’ts of being online can be tricky. It can be hard to gauge when and what to talk to your children about,” says Helen Lamprell, general counsel and external affairs director of Vodafone UK, who recently launched a new Digital Parenting online guide and #Goldilocks – a retelling of the classic fairy tail in the digital age, to help teach kids about responsible social media use.

“What often gets overlooked is guidance on being kind to others, how social media can affect self-esteem, and general tips on sharing information responsibly – especially about friends and family,” adds Lamprell. “Set a few key rules to start off with, which you discuss and chat through as a family, and try and see things from their point of view. Don’t tell them it’s ridiculous to care about ‘likes’ – if it matters to them, it matters.”

So where should you start? Here are some tips from Digital Parenting  (vodafone.co.uk/digitalparenting) to help children stay safe and responsible online…

1. When are they old enough?

Social platforms like Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook require users to be 13+ (16 for WhatsApp), but these sites and apps can’t verify age. You can manage accessibility with parental controls, but if your child is interested in social media at an earlier age, it’s best to be open and discuss their motivations and whether it’s really the right time for them. Remember, allowing hundreds of people to comment on their posts can affect their self-esteem, so consider whether they’re ready for this.

2. Work as a team

Open up a conversation with kids about social media (Thinkstock/PA)

Involve your children when discussing and creating digital household rules, so they feel heard. Listening to your child and their needs around technology will help them remember, enforce and respect what you agree on. Be consistent with rules – for example, if you agree to not allow phones at the table or bedroom, either stick to it or make a point of changing the rule.

3. Think about granny

Encourage your child to follow the ‘Granny Rule’: If you wouldn’t be happy with your granny seeing it, don’t post it. It will get your child thinking before sharing something they may regret – especially as it could be online forever. A useful tool for introducing children to the topic of oversharing is Digital Parenting’s digital bedtime story #Goldilocks, which retells the classic fairy tale to teach children about being responsible online.

4. Find reason behind rules

Set boundaries for your children which are both age-appropriate and reasonable. Chat to a few of your children’s friends’ parents and find out what rules they’re setting. If your rules are vastly different from their friends’, you may want to re-evaluate.

5. Explore safety features first

Most social media sites have their own safety features and reporting procedures. If your child is setting up a new social media account, help them explore these settings and tools. Some of the most important include selecting the right privacy and security options, and checking how to block or report certain users if something goes wrong online.

6. Engage in their world

Being online is part of life for many youngsters (Thinkstock/PA)

Around 60% of children say parents don’t discuss issues around digital life. Maintain an open and honest dialogue, and try to understand your child’s online world by asking about their favourite vlogger, game or activity.

7. Be aware others can see your location

Location services on apps can be a fun and inventive way of showing friends and family where you are. But if your child doesn’t turn off settings on certain apps, others can track their whereabouts in real time. It’s important to help your child manage their location settings, so they’re only sharing their location when they want to. For example, Snapchat users can switch to ‘Ghost Mode’ to avoid being tracked.

8. Not all followers can be trusted

Talk to your child about only accepting friend requests and other interactions from people they know and trust. Encourage them to explore settings to limit who can see their posts. It’s better that only people they know and get on with can view, like or comment on their posts and activity.

9. Get creative

Help your child make the most of the internet by suggesting apps and online tools that can help them unleash their creativity, keep active or learn more about the world. There are a wealth of apps that can let your children find out more about nature, go on scavenger hunts or get sketching – there are even apps that incentivise chores so it’s a win-win for any mum or dad.

10. Think twice before clicking

Tell your child to always be wary of opening links they’re sent in private messages. Even if it appears to be a message from a friend, their friend’s account may have been hacked, and the link could be a scam or lead them to an inappropriate site. If in doubt, check the link URL – if you don’t recognise the website or it looks suspicious, avoid clicking on it.

- Press Association


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