In a tech driven world, it’s impossible to keep your children offline. So, making it safe is one thing you can do as a parent. This guide can help you recognise the risks and take steps to reduce them.
The way that children access the internet is changing all the time. Everything from tablets and smartphones to games consoles, TV’s and laptops are now online.
The use of internet enabled devices in schools is also a growing trend. Primary schools across Ireland use tablets and computers, and this increases further in secondary schools, including for homework.
During lockdown due to COVID-19, most children relied on laptops for homeschooling and online teaching.
Online learning platforms, emails, text messages, WhatsApp and Zoom, are all examples of tools being used for communication and lessons. However, most of these methods are dependent on a reliable broadband connection, that many Irish households lack.
The first step to protecting your children online is to identify and understand the most common risks they could face.
This is a type of bullying that happens online, for example, on a social network like Instagram or TikTok. It might take the form of a hurtful comment about a photo, a threatening text message, or the spreading of fake news.
When targeted, children often become withdrawn and depressed and quickly believe what’s being said about them. At its worst, cyberbullying can lead to eating disorders, self-harm or even suicide.
The Internet Matters website offers practical ways to protect your child from cyberbullying.
Content may be inappropriate if it causes distress and upset, leads to dangerous behaviour, or is adult in nature. Examples include material that is:
For advice on how to protect your child against unwanted content, visit the ISPCC website.
This is where a child is targeted online by someone posing as a friend that they start to trust. Once the trust has been built, they trick or pressurise the victim into doing something of a sexual nature and retain the evidence.
The threat of the content being published often results in ongoing abuse.
To find out more about how to protect your child from online grooming, visit the Internet Matters website.
The danger of sharing information that should be kept private is that it’s very difficult to undo in time.
If information is posted in a public place it can be seen instantly by many and could get into the wrong hands.
Sharing personal details like their address and phone number leaves them open to identity theft and harassment.
This is where a fake email, text or message is sent and often includes a link to a website that’s also fake.
The scammers may trick the victim into clicking on the link or sharing personal details or financial information, in exchange for something they might want.
For help on recognising the signs of a scam that you can also teach your child, or what to do if you’ve been scammed, visit the Citizens Information website.
The more aware you are of potential risks, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with them if needed.
You can use the resources available to understand how your child might be targeted and tackle the topics with them when they’re old enough.
By understanding what children can go through online, you’ll be more alert to the signs, such as changes in their behaviour, attitude, friendships, school work, sleep patterns, eating habits and much more.
Being able to recognise risks is great, but reducing the chances of them occurring is even better.
When your child is young, it’s about limiting what they can access and as they get older, it’s more about empowering them to question what doesn’t feel right, and share their concerns.
Here are some practical things you can implement to reduce risks, and some things you can do to encourage the right behaviour in your child.
By setting out some rules about internet usage, you’ll have more control over any potential risks. For example, you can control:
Parental controls put you in control of the content your child can access. It does this by blocking certain sites and filtering out inappropriate content on each device they use.
You can also monitor their usage, track their screen time and automatically turn their devices off for periods of time.
Check the terms and conditions of any sites and apps your child uses, and choose the right privacy settings.
Each social network has tips for parents on the best ways to stay safe and secure using their apps.
The following links will help you select the right privacy settings and explain how to block someone or report an issue:
You’ll also find links to resources that can support your child if they do suffer any abuse online.
Installing anti-virus software on each device and keeping it up to date will help to minimise risks if you do suffer a cyberattack, caused by a scam.
You don’t always have to pay for this software, but you may get added protection with packages you do pay for.
Always check the legitimacy of any software before you download it.
There are plenty of independent review sites to help you choose a security package, and you can also check out their website and ensure it starts with HTTPS, so you know it’s secure.
It’s also important to educate your children in the importance of:
Two-factor authentication (2FA) is used widely to add an extra layer of security when you’re accessing your device or confirming a transaction. As well as a login and password, a second factor is required, this is usually a one-off code that’s texted to your phone.
2FA can also be used to stop your child from signing into a service that’s blocked or purchasing something without your approval.
If your number has been set up as the 2FA, you’ll be alerted to any breach your child is attempting. You can then either block it, or allow it to go ahead by confirming your password and the unique code.
Educating your child about the dangers of the internet including how to spot risks and deal with them, will arguably have the biggest impact on their safety.
You need to start talking openly about safety from a young age and what they can and can’t do online. To help your child stay alert and safe, ensure they:
As well as all these things, you should also:
Common sense media has put together some ultimate guides for parents on the latest apps trending and some of the old favourites.
Their reviews help you to understand what each app does and whether it’s safe, along with plenty of links to other helpful resources.
This is really tricky to answer, especially with so many different devices and uses for the internet. It’s likely to depend on a number of factors such as:
There are lots of resources available to help you manage screen time, like those found on internetmatters.org. However, how much time they spend online is ultimately up to you.
Creating a healthy balance between online and offline activities is the best thing to aim for, all within agreed wake up times and bedtimes.
Nothing is ever set in stone. Don’t worry about increasing or reducing screen time if it’s not working, but try and involve your child in the rule setting as they’ll be more likely to comply.
Most social networks allow users aged 13 and above to have an account, but until they’re 16 (the digital age of consent in Ireland), the way their data can be used is restricted.
Data protection laws protect children’s personal data from being collected, used, processed or stored for marketing, profiling or micro-targeting without parental consent, until they are 16.
Webwise.ie explains more about the digital age of consent.
This depends on lots of factors, including things like:
If your child can responsibly use another device or your phone and respects boundaries like when, where and how they can use it, they may be ready for their own phone.
If you’re not comfortable they will follow the rules when you’re not around, it’s probably not the right time.
Setting up parental controls will offer some protection against inappropriate content for your child, webwise.ie explains how to do this.
Whether they have their own phone or not, they’ll still be exposed to the internet, so, the most important thing is to keep communication open with your child.
Keep up to date with their likes and dislikes, and let them know they can come to you about anything they see or hear that they’re unsure of.
Make use of the many resources available for parents online like cybersafekids.ie and look at them together.