The internet has come a long way in the last decade. With social media sites changing the way we live and communicate; the monopoly of the ‘big 3’ (Google, Facebook and Amazon) and the pitfalls of ‘big data’, it requires more awareness than ever to remain vigilant and stay safe.
This is especially important when it comes to the younger generations of internet-users – children and teens. Parents, teachers and carers all have a responsibility to protect younger users and educate them about how to stay safe on the internet.
We’ve put together some child safety tips for using the internet, no matter how digitally proficient you are. Whether you’re a parent, child, high-school student or teacher, these are some internet safety tips for everyone to know and use.
First however, let’s take a quick look at some internet safety facts.
Internet Safety Facts
- Teachers report that cyberbullying is their #1 safety concern in their classrooms, according to a recent 2019 Google survey.
- According to a 2019 poll released by UNICEF and the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Violence against Children, one in three young people in 30 countries said they have been a victim of online bullying, with one in five having skipped school due to cyberbullying and violence.
- In the same survey, it was revealed that nearly half of young people (47%) have received intimidating, threatening or nasty messages online.
- In a 2018 report by YoungMinds and The Children’s Society, it was found that there is a connection between intensive social media use and mental ill health and low self esteem. Underage use of social media networks (under 13 years) is also commonplace.
- The more time people spend online, the more likely they will have had personal information stolen. According to a 2017 report by Javelin, people with social media accounts were 46% more likely to be hacked than those without.
- It is estimated that around 1.3 million children are victims of identity theft each year, with hackers using various information from social media profiles, school rosters and other sources of birth date and parent information to put together believable profiles.
- According to the first ever global Child Online Safety Index (COSI) in light of Safer Internet Day, the UK ranks 19th out of 30 countries surveyed for child online safety.
10 Internet Safety Tips (in child-friendly terminology)
Here are some tips that you can give to your child or students that may be using the internet independently. Take some time to sit down and talk to your child about each one of these rules, ensuring that they understand each one and what it means for them browsing online.
If you wish, you could even print off these tips and stick them on the wall in the same room or above the desk where your child is using the computer. Alternatively, ask your children or students to create their own posters listing some of the rules, which they can then hang up instead.
1. Never give out your password, name, address, the name of your school or any information about your family to anybody you may be speaking with online.
2. Don’t talk to strangers on the internet.
3. Don’t agree to meet anyone in person that you’ve only met online. Remember that not everyone online is who they say they are.
4. Don’t fill in a profile that asks for your name and address, unless it is with your parent’s permission and they say it is okay.
5. Don’t visit a chat room without an adult’s or parent’s permission.
6. Don’t stay online if you see something you think your parents won’t like. If you’re not sure, ask a grown-up.
7. Don’t post pictures of yourself online without your parents’ permission. Remember that once you put a picture (or video) of yourself online, anybody can see it and may be able to download it. It’s not just yours anymore.
8. Don’t download or install anything on your computer without asking your parents first.
9. If you have any questions about something you read, ask your parent or guardian to explain it to you.
10. If you are talking to someone online and they make you uncomfortable, remember you don’t have to talk back to them. If you are unsure, leave the conversation and talk to a grown-up.
How to explain internet safety to a child
It can be difficult to start talking to your child about what they’re doing online or who they might be speaking to. But by talking regularly, like you would about their day at school, your child will start to feel relaxed (as will you!). This means that when they do have any worries, they’re more likely to come and speak to you.
Reassure them that you’re interested in their life, offline and online. Recognise that they’ll be using the internet to research homework as well as talking to their friends. Be positive but also open about anything you’re worried about. You could say “I think this site’s really good” or “I’m a little worried about things I’ve seen here.”
Listen to the reasons your child wants to use a certain app or website you feel isn’t suitable. You can talk about it together to reach an informed conclusion. Ask your child what they think is okay for children of different ages, so they feel involved in the decision making.
You may also wish to speak to your child about the importance of being kind on the internet and not being purposely rude or hurtful. Remind them gently that most people using the internet are just like them and can feel hurt, lonely or excluded. Let them know that it’s also important to respect other people’s views, even if they don’t agree with them, without being rude.
Explain to your children that what they say online will stay there for a long time, so they should think carefully about what they post to ensure it doesn’t hurt others or land them in trouble. Tell them about the headline test – if they wouldn’t want to see it on the front page of a newspaper (or written about them!), then they probably shouldn’t write it. Let them know that they can always ask a grown-up for help if they are unsure.
Internet Safety Tips for High School Students
Older children (both tweens and teens) will use the internet differently to their younger counterparts. Most children of high school age will spend time online talking to friends, watching videos, playing games and sharing photos and other creative content.
Though they’ll be less likely to share their online lives with you, it’s still useful to go over these safety facts and tips with your high school-age child, so they’ll be less likely to land themselves in trouble and can go about their online business safely.
1. Remember the golden rule
Remember the golden rule – once something is on the internet, it’s always on the internet! This is especially important in scenarios when alcohol or drugs may be involved, as users’ sense of judgement can be greatly inhibited.
Lots of universities and companies will look at students’ social media profiles as part of the application process. Remember that nothing is completely private online, so think twice before uploading something that could frame you in a less-than-positive light.
2. Keep your personal details private
Identity theft is a very real possibility. Predators will make pop-up web-pages with the intent of getting personal information from whoever is online.
You can reduce your chances of identity theft by refusing to give out your personal information to unknown websites. When using school, email or other legitimate websites, you should only give the required information and make sure you are doing so over a secure connection. One way to make sure the connection to the web-page is secure is to type the URL into the address bar manually rather than clicking on links from other web-pages.
Another way to decrease the amount of personal information you provide over the internet is to make sure screen names and passwords do not include any personal, identifying information. This means not using full legal names for screen names and not including addresses, social security numbers, dates of birth, etc., as passwords.
3. Location Safety
Many high school students like to post statuses on social media that let people know where they are at different times throughout the day. Though this may seem harmless, it actually has the potential to end very badly, as people can potentially use this information to find a student and kidnap them.
Fortunately there are ways for teenagers to still let their friends know what they are up to without putting themselves in danger. One precaution to take is to only post where you went after you have left that location. You could also limit who can see your location status when you post it online. This ensures that only those you select can see where you are located.
It’s also best to turn off the automatic location feature on social media websites and apps and to never accept friend requests or messages from people you don’t know. This narrows the possibility of having someone that means harm get into your ‘friends’ list.
4. Recognise illegal activities
Junk mail and spam continues to cloud inboxes around the world. Over the years, spammers have become more sophisticated and can pretend to be real companies you may be familiar with, like Amazon, PayPal or your banking provider.
Familiarise yourself with what genuine emails from these companies look like and the email addresses they use to contact you. Remember that legitimate companies will NEVER ask for your password or private banking details. Install a good spyware on your computer and smartphone, and ask a teacher or older family member if you receive anything that looks suspicious.
5. Report cyberbullying
Bullying online can escalate quickly from harmless teasing to something more serious. At its worst, it can evolve into endless hounding and harassment, leading to depression, anxiety and even suicide.
It’s important to recognise the early signs of cyberbullying, both so you can protect yourself and others. If you feel your are being bullied online, report it immediately to the social media network you are using, and also a person of authority, such as a parent or teacher.
If you suspect a friend is being cyberbullied, reach out a hand to help. Stand up for them where necessary and offer them help and support.
Internet Safety Tips for Parents
As a parent, there are lots of ways to ensure your children stay safe when using the internet.
The internet is a fantastic tool that can be used for lots of positive things, so it’s not as simple as just banning it altogether. You may wish to put certain boundaries in place, however, and explain to children how they can stay safe, using the tips mentioned earlier.
Here are some internet safety tips for parents.
Agree some boundaries
Have a chat with your child about what they can and can’t do online. This includes:
- agreeing where in the house they can use the internet (their bedroom, or downstairs only? Etc.);
- how much time they can spend online (many parents choose to have a cut-off point before bedtime, or have a maximum of 1-2 hours per day)
- the sites they can visit;
- the type of information they can share.
It’s also worth agreeing with your child when they can have a mobile phone or tablet, and what rules and boundaries come with those.
The best way to find out what your child is doing online is to ask them! By integrating internet use into your conversations together, it won’t have to feel like you’re checking up on them.
Ask them to tell you about what they do when they’re online and what sites they like to visit. If they’re happy to, ask them to show you. Talk to them also about how they can be a good friend online.
Put yourself in control
If you know how, install parental controls on your home broadband and any internet-enabled devices. (If you don’t know how, ask a family member or techie to help).
Create your child their own user account on the main device they use and make sure other accounts in the household are password-protected so that younger children can’t access them by accident.
Use airplane mode
If you don’t mind letting younger children play games on your phone or tablet, turn on airplane mode so they can’t make any unapproved purchases or interact with anyone online without your knowledge.
Encourage children to use their tech devices in a communal area like the lounge or the kitchen so you can keep an eye on how they’re using the internet and also share in their enjoyment.
It doesn’t have to feel like a rule – simply by showing interest in what they’re doing, they’ll be more inclined to share their online activities with you.
Talk to siblings
It’s a good idea to talk to any older children in the household about what they’re doing online and what they show to their younger children. Encourage them to be responsible and help keep their younger siblings safe.
Use safe search engines such as Swiggle or Kids-search, or activate the safe-search settings on Google and other search engines to control what children see. You can save time by adding any kid-safe search engines to your ‘Favourites’.
Don’t forget other platforms such as YouTube, which also has a safe search setting to make it more friendly for children.
Check that it’s suitable
The age ratings that come with games, apps, films and social networks are a good guide to whether they’re suitable for your child. The minimum age for the major social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram is 13.
For younger children, sites aimed at under-10s like Moshi Monsters and Kudos also have social networking elements whilst remaining child-friendly.
Internet Safety Tips for Teachers
Schools of course have a responsibility to safeguard children and teenagers whilst using the internet. This will include ensuring the appropriate child safety controls are in place on all classroom devices, and supervising children when they’re online.
However, teachers can also educate children on internet safety by teaching a lesson on it, or simply taking some time to go over the basic rules and what to look out for. You could even encourage students to create some creative and colourful internet safety literacy that you could hang up around the classroom.
Below are some useful internet safety tips for teachers.
Explain why the internet can be a great place
Ask students why they think the internet can a great place, and have a discussion about its helpful role in society. Be a role model for young people by setting an example of positive online behaviour, and talk to them about this might look like.
Talk about the dangers of the internet
Once you’ve discussed the positive, ask students to talk about why the internet may be not such a great place sometimes. Talk to them about how the internet can be used incorrectly to become dangerous.
Lay down website rules
Make sure students know which websites are allowed and encouraged, and which ones are less safe or completely unacceptable. These will likely be determined by your school’s safety controls, but it’s good to go over this nonetheless.
Teach about privacy online
Explain to children that not everybody is who they say they are on the internet. Make sure they know never to give out personal information to people they do not know, such as their name, home address, the name of their school and passwords.
If a student is wanting to meet with someone in person whom they met online, explain why they should take a trusted adult with them.
Encourage respectful relationships
Encourage young people to have respectful relationships online; this includes respect for ourselves, family and friends. Explain why saying nasty or hurtful things online can be harmful for others’ mental health and how to check themselves before they post.
Say no to bullying
Educate students on the signs of cyberbullying and how to spot it in its tracks before it goes too far. Give them a step-by-step plan of what to do if they suspect they or a friend are being cyberbullied, which should include trusted adults or services they can speak to.
Also explain about the importance of sticking up for others. Help young people build a strong community that says no to bullying.
Question everything you see on the internet, and encourage students to do the same. Explain to them that not everything they see on the internet will be true. You could provide information on how students can check the credibility of information they find online, or even hold a lesson on it to teach about research skills.
Talk about difficult issues
We need to support our young people as they grow up with technology. This might mean coming across new issues we’ve never encountered before. Make sure children know where they can go to talk about issues they might experience online – whether it’s bullying, disagreements with friends, information they’re unsure about or anything else that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Know where to go for further help
If you are aware of a young person in trouble online, help them find extra support. This can either be in the form of a counsellor, helpline, by notifying the website or social platform in questions, or by speaking to their parent or carer about it.