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What would schools normally be telling children about internet safety?

Mother and daughter using laptops together

Children get lots of internet safety information at school: it’s a legal requirement. Four different types of government guidance set out how teachers must cover online safety at various stages of school life.

During the current coronavirus lockdown, children are using the internet more than ever. What with learning, socialising and play, they’re hardly off it – and there are enormous benefits. But there are also, of course, some risks – and children are unlikely to be getting much internet safety advice from their teachers right now.

So how can parents back up the usual information and guidance? And how can you talk to your children about internet safety in a way that doesn’t make them switch off?

What do you need to know?

There are different types of risks online. Some harms are financial (such as scams), some physical (such as grooming for sexual abuse) and some emotional and social (such as bullying and shaming). They also vary in severity. Some of these things are scary – but the key thing is that if children know they won’t be judged and they will be helped, the risks don’t have to turn into harms. Children will know how to respond in the early stages.

Digital resilience

The most important thing overall is to help your child develop digital resilience. This means:

  • They understand that there are some risks online
  • They know how to get help if they need it – and that help will always be there
  • They can learn from experience
  • They can recover

How to go about it

A good starting point is to talk to your child about what they like doing online and how their online life could be better. What do they do online? What are they currently spending most time on, what would they like to be doing more of, what makes them feel good and not so good? There’s lots more information on digital resilience on Parent Info.

The Be Internet Legends hub on Parent Zone has all the latest ideas and tools for parents to help their child through lockdown. Be Internet Legends is endorsed by the PSHE Association and backed by the government, and is developed by Google in partnership with Parent Zone.

Sharing

The internet is a tool for sharing – but no one wants to share everything. Talk to your child about when sharing might create problems. Many children understand about strong passwords, logging out of sites, and not giving out their address online. Ask them if they think the current lockdown has changed anything? (They may be doing more live streaming, for example – do they care about what’s in the background?) It’s not only their own stuff they have to be careful of sharing – they need to think about passing on content relating to other people.

Fake news

More than ever, we need to be on guard against online scams. These may be financial, or they may be information that’s designed to mislead – for example about treatments or vaccines. Talk to your child about how you can spot malicious material online.

A few clues are:

  • Unexpected pop ups, in games, for example – especially if they demand you act quickly
  • Downloads you’re not expecting
  • Spelling and grammar mistakes
  • Strange-looking web addresses (URLs)

On unfamiliar websites, it’s important to check where the links take you. Something that looks serious might take you off to fringe groups. Talk to your child about the tricky balance between being open to exciting new things online and being wary and wise.

Concern for others

Something that might be said and forgotten at school can feel different when written down and shared. Talk to your child about whether you sometimes need to think about behaving differently online.

Good questions for everyone to keep in mind are:

  • How would you feel if someone said this to you/this happened to you?
  • Would you say it out loud to someone’s face?

Block/report/tell an adult

Make sure your child understands that anything that happens online can be stopped. At any point, they can block someone. They can report specific harms, as outlined below. The government has also published guidance on keeping children safe online during the coronavirus crisis, which has more detailed information.

Make sure your child understands that you won’t judge them if they come to you for help. And if they want to talk to another adult, that’s fine too. You may be able to identify the sort of person they could talk to. (Children often turn to their teachers in normal times.)

And make sure they know that there are bodies set up to deal with all sorts of harms and that, if they report, the authorities will do their best to sort out the problem.

Image: Prostock-studio/stock.adobe.com


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