As a parent or carer, the best tool to support your child in leading a safe and positive life online is open conversation. Whether you are approaching these conversations for the first time, or you have already made a start, this advice can help you to support your child to use technology in a happy and healthy way.
Supporting your child to be happy and healthy online
The internet can be a fantastic place for children, providing them with exciting opportunities. Talking about the positives of going online, keeping the conversations broad and valuing your child’s opinion shows that you are interested in all aspects of their online world. Remain open-minded, and remember children use the internet differently to adults. To be dismissive of online apps, games or trends may put off your child from continuing any conversations. Encouraging your child to discuss what they enjoy about going online can be a helpful bridge to talking about safety messages and more difficult issues in the future.
Get your family together to discuss how you use technology and what you use it for. Come to a joint agreement on using it safely and responsibly, and work together to set clear expectations and boundaries. Let your child know what they can do if anything happens online that is worrying, upsetting or confusing, and remind them they can always talk to you about anything.Make discussions with your child about their online experiences a regular part of family life. If your child mentions something you haven’t heard of, ask them to show you, or explain in more detail. You could also do your own research, and discuss ways you can support your child to use technology safely together.
Keep it relevant
As they get older, children will use technology and the internet differently. The challenges they may face will change too. To get a sense of how much they know and what support they still need, ask open-ended questions to let your child lead the conversations you have. Consider the purpose of any discussion you start with your child, and use this to guide the direction it takes. There are appropriate ways to approach all online safety topics with different ages. For example, with a teenager, nude images can be spoken about in wider conversations around consent and healthy relationships. For younger children, you could discuss what types of images are okay to share online, and what areas of our bodies are private.
What if something goes wrong?
If your child comes to you with a concern, try to remain calm and curious, rather than furious. Avoid blame or criticism, as this may close down the conversation if your child feels they have done something wrong or they are in trouble. Instead, remain non-judgmental, acknowledge the challenges they have overcome, and thank them for telling you. If you find out your child is dealing with a worrying situation online, but is unwilling to speak about it, reassure them you want to help make things better. Avoid pressuring them to speak before they are ready. Gently try some broad questions to open up a dialogue, and give them plenty of time to answer.
10 Key messages to share with your child
1. “You can always come to me if you need help.”
2. “What would you do if this happened...?”
3. “Remember that not everyone is who they say they are online.”
4. “Keep your personal information safe, and other people’s too.”
5. “Be respectful to others online.”
6. “Think before you post.”
7. “Remember to ask if it’s okay.”
8. “Remember not everything is true online.”
9. “The things other people post online might not always show what their life is really like.”
10. “Recognise how going online makes you feel and take a break when you need to.”
Find help and support
Family Lives - familylives.org.uk
Young Minds - youngminds.org.uk
Vodaphone - vodafone.co.uk/digitalparenting