Online Safety Advice for Parents and Carers during COVID-19
Now that many children (and parents) are staying at home, families will frequently be encouraging their children to make good use of technology. Technology can help us all stay in touch safely and provide fantastic opportunities for learning at home but we need to ensure that our children are as safe as possible online.
Almost all devices allow parental controls to be set. These can be adjusted depending on the ages of the children. They can:
- Stop children putting new apps on a device until the parents approve them
- Reduce the chance of a child accidentally spending money on virtual goods
- Limit the time that children use a device without having a break
A good starting point is the internet matters website, look at the ‘setting controls’ section at the top. Internet Matters: Parental Controls Information
You can also set up filters on your home internet to help prevent age inappropriate content being accessed on devices in your home. The safer internet website has guidance on this. Safer Internet: Home Internet Controls
Probably the best thing you can do to help keep your child safe online is to talk to them regularly about how they use technology, which apps and sites they use and who their online friends are. Some children struggle with online relationships, perhaps either sending or receiving hurtful messages. If children receive unpleasant messages these can usually be reported and each app or site will have a different way of doing this.
The NSPCC has some great tips, covering a variety of topics, on how to talk to your child about staying safe whilst using the internet: Parental Advice from the NSPCC
Social media can be a fantastic tool for maintaining social contact while we are required to socially distance ourselves, and for checking that everyone we care about is okay. There are many opportunities for children to use the power of social media for good, such as sharing positive messages and building or contributing a sense of community online – read some top tips from the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) website on using digital technologies in a positive way during COVID-19:BIK- Positive use of Digital Technology
Apps, Games and Sites
The list of apps and websites children are using grows by the minute so printed advice is likely to be out of date. In the UK the NSPCC have a site called Net-Aware which explains many current apps, the risks and the benefits of their use: Net Aware.
More apps are listed on the American site Common Sense Media: Common Sense Media
In terms of online gaming, it is essential that children are aware of the potential risks. Children should know whether or not they are playing with real life friends and how to report any misuse or worries. They should know that if there is contact from unknown people, they should record the details of any such messages and, if necessary, block the person and/or report any serious concerns to the police.
The Internet Matters website has further advice and resources on online gaming: Internet Matters: Online Gaming
Balancing Screen Time with Other Activities
We know that children learn best when they are engaging in interactions with their families and loved ones. During COVID-19, families can try to offset extra screen-time with plenty of physical or practical activities and loving interactions to build children’s brain and bodies.
A good idea might be to create a schedule for online as well as offline activities, such as physical activity, sleep, healthy eating, reading, learning activities and device-free family time. Together, these activities can help children maintain mental and physical health. Also, screen use before bedtime can impact quality and duration of sleep, so children will benefit if the last 60 minutes of the day is device-free time.
Childnet has further advise and information on this issue: Childnet: Balancing Screen time
Online Safety Activities for Children
Thinkuknow is the website aimed at children and their parents from the National Crime Agency. It has lots of useful suggestions and advice on how to report issues. It also has games and activities including Jessie and Friends for the younger children and Band Runner for the older ones: Thinkuknow.
Apps to help children stay safe online
The BBC have a website and app called Own It. The website has a lot of content for children to help them navigate their online lives, and the free smartphone app comes with a special keyboard which can intervene with help and support in the moments that children need it the most. It can be downloaded for free in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.
SafeToNet is an app for parents to help them safeguard their children from online risks like cyberbullying and sexting, whilst respecting their child’s rights to privacy. The SafeToNet Foundation is providing UK families with free access to 1 million licences during coronavirus.
The NSPCC have teamed up with O2 to provide advice to parents: NSPCC Online Safety.
They also have a free helpline on 0808 800 5002.
Parent Info is a collaboration between Parent Zone and NCA-CEOP, providing support and guidance for parents and carers related to the digital world from leading experts and organisations
UK Safer Internet Centre provides tips and advice for parents and carers to keep children safe online - you can also report any harmful content found online through the UK Safer Internet Centre
Children can call Childline on 0800 1111 for advice on anything that is worrying them.
Finally, since 2015 is has been a criminal offence to send a message with ‘adult’ content to a child (This is Section 67 of the Serious Crime Act 2015). If you are concerned that this might have happened, please contact the Police without further using the device. This will help ensure that evidence can be preserved. The Police can be contacted by phone (101 for non-emergencies) or from the CEOPS website: CEOP or Thinkuknow website: Thinkuknow.