Common online safety questions from parents

Posted on 02 June 2016

Childnet’s Education Team speak to young people, staff and parents all across the country about online safety.

This year alone, they have spoken to over 3,000 parents so far and have answered hundreds of their questions.

Below they share the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions they get whilst delivering these education sessions. 

How do I speak to my teenager about spending too much time on the internet?

We usually say to broach the topic in a subtle way, if possible. Instead of phrasing your issue negatively by saying ‘you’re not allowed go online’ or ‘turn off your phone’, an approach which can often lead to fights, you could first bring up the topic by sympathising with your children. You could mention how you often have issues ‘switching off’ from technology, and you could ask your child if they feel the same. In our educational session, we speak about internet usage. We show the Ofcom statistic that says that a 12-15 year old, on average, spends up to 19 hours a week online. We ask young people to consider how much time they spend online each week and compare it to the average amount. You could start off by asking them that question, and getting them to break down how much time is spent on each activity, eg gaming, messaging, watching tv and reflect on the activities they spend the most time on. We then ask them to let us know when they can tell when they have been online too long. They offer answers such as ‘when your phone gets hot’ or ‘when you get a headache’ or ‘your mood starts to change’. Instead of telling them what they can’t or shouldn’t do, the answers they give come from their own experience and hopefully they will begin to manage their time online better.

Gaming in particular seems to be an area which parents and young people disagree over. There are some games which will not allow you to pause or stop until you reach a certain point – if you have spent a long time working your way through a level, only to have quit before you can save, that can be very frustrating. Understanding how the games your children like work, and agreeing on a time limit before they start playing them could help resolve any arguments. Perhaps you could agree that the long-play games should be saved for weekends or school holidays as a treat.

By introducing a family agreement early in your household, you could begin to have these conversations early and put boundaries in place. You could also suggest getting an app on your phone that is designed to encourage you to put your device down, instead of browsing the internet.

What can I do because my child knows more than me about the internet?

We get asked this question all of the time, and it is becoming increasingly normal that parents feel that their child knows more about technology than they do. Our parent sessions talk about the different risks and concerns that a child may face online, however we stress that by talking to your children about online safety early and often, it is more likely that your children will open up more and let you know about the things that worry or upset them online. There are some ideas for conversations starters here.

  • On a practical note, you could start by sitting down with them and asking what they like to do online or playing a video game with them, so you can understand their world.
  • Ask if they know the tools – how to block or report if someone in the game is being mean to them.
  • Ask them how an online friend differs from a real friend?
  • Ask them if they know what personal information is and why they shouldn’t give it away online.

Overall, it is important to broach the topic of internet safety in a positive way. If a child hears ‘I know nothing about technology, I’m a dinosaur, video games are a waste of time’, they may be less likely to come to you for help if they need it. If a child hears ‘You may know more than me about technology at the moment, but as I’m your parent, I know a lot more about life, but I’m always willing and able to sit down with you if you have a problem with the internet’, hopefully they will come to you if they encounter issues. It is very difficult to monitor your child’s internet use 24/7 and as technology moves so fast, the best thing a parent can do is to equip their children with the tools and the confidence to navigate the internet safely.

My child wants to join a social networking site but they aren’t 13 years old yet. All of their friends are already on the site, how do Childnet speak to young people about this?

Many of the social networking sites that exist (Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter) carry terms and conditions that users must be over the age of 13 to register for an account. Children may not be aware of this when they sign up for a service, as not all services will ask for a date of birth or confirmation that they are over 13. Some children may also circumvent such checks by providing a false date of birth. In some situations, parents have allowed their child to go on these social networking sites (SNS) under the age of 13, but only on the condition that the parents get to ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ their child so they can monitor the child’s usage. For other children, who abide by the terms and conditions of the SNS and haven’t signed up, seeing their friends using social media  can lead to issues of peer pressure and a feeling of being ‘left out’. 

In our educational sessions, we make children aware that SNS have an age restriction of 13. We encourage them to wait until they are the correct age to register for these SNS, and to be truthful about their age, as more safety features will apply if they do. We also warn that if anyone reports them as an underage user, their account will be deleted and any content on the service such as videos or photos will also be removed. We always remind those with an underage account to ask a parent/carer for help in understanding the privacy and reporting features available. 

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