"Follow Me"
A Social Experiment

You do everything you can to keep your child safe in the ‘real world’ – why wouldn’t you do the same online?

We all want the best for our children. Young people today appear to seamlessly navigate physical and online environments that may be very different to those of our own childhoods.  

Although online developments provide opportunities – from building support networks to finding information and entertainment, they can also present dangers to children that can be difficult to spot.

It’s hard to keep up with the rapid changes of the digital world, with new apps, social networks and interactive games. This can sometimes mean that children know more about it than we do. Even if you are not a digital expert, there are some helpful steps you can take to keep your child safe online:

1. Be as interested in your child’s digital life as you are in their school life

Having positive conversations about the internet with your child shows you are interested in the things that they are. This will help you understand the platforms they are using and mean you can give them tips about staying safe online without it feeling like a ‘lecture’. These conversations will also build trust, allowing your child to talk to you without judgement if they ever find themselves in a difficult situation online.

2. Discuss what healthy and unhealthy online behaviour looks like

Dangers can come not only from befriending strangers online, but from interactions with peers and friends of friends. Rather than give messages about stranger danger, it is more effective to talk about what healthy and unhealthy online behaviour looks like. This, dependent on age, might include:

  • Talking about sexting (sending naked or semi-naked pictures)
  • Trolling (harassment and bullying)
  • Sharing personal information
  • Not adding unknown people to chat groups, games or friend lists  
  • Accessing pornography and the impact this can have on skewing ideas of consent and healthy relationships
  • Identifying if someone is using grooming techniques with the aim to exploit or hurt someone

3. Encourage your child to use age-appropriate sites

Many young children will want to access sites that are meant for adults or teenagers. While this is natural, it may present risks. Review the safety features of each site and talk to your child about age guidelines and why they exist. This will help them identify safer and more appropriate online spaces.

4. Enable your child to have digital access in the same physical space as you

Being in the same room as your child when they are online not only helps you know what they are accessing, it enables you to pick up on non-verbal clues as to whether their online life is a happy and safe one. It also provides an opportunity to react to both positive and negative impacts that being online might have on your child.

5. Discuss how information can be shared online and agree privacy settings

Talk to your child about what information they share online and who they would want to see this. It can be helpful to give some scenarios about how sharing private information with one person could be captured by screenshot and shared so that others can see it. Set your child’s privacy controls accordingly – then check them regularly as some sites automatically revert privacy settings to a lower level after releasing an update.

Although sexual exploitation, online bullying and stalking affects increasing numbers of children year on year, by following the above steps you can help safeguard your child.

As a parent or carer, the most important way you can help is by maintaining an open dialogue with them about their online activity. Along with being there to help them if they are targeted or get into difficulty, this will help enable them to navigate the online world while making safer choices.

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