How to keep your kids safe online

Online safety is a real concern for parents in the digital age. Here’s what every carer and parent should know about their children and the Internet.

Screens are a huge part of life for Aussie children. There are many challenges associated with raising kids in the age of the Internet, and online safety is a major concern for all parents. We spoke to Cyber Safety Lady Leonie Smith about how parents and carers can help protect their children’s safety online.

Educate yourself

Many children receive education around cyber safety at school, but kids need guidance and supervision in this area from their parents, which is why adult education around cyber safety for kids is so important. “Parents need to understand that education is vital,” says Leonie. “They’re coming from a place where they don’t have any experience of a child that’s using the Internet. You’ve got to understand how these things work.” Face-to-face education is most effective, says Leonie, so look into a course near you.

Talk to your child

A frequent and honest dialogue around your child’s online activities is essential, Leonie explains. “Really stick with them and supervise what they’re doing,” she says. “A lot of parents don’t do that and then they’re horrified to find out that their child is playing violent games.” Set up regular times throughout the week to talk to your child about what they’re doing online. This will establish a healthy routine of ongoing open conversation around online issues, which is invaluable, while also creating a regular forum for children to get advice and have their questions answered by a trusted source. Plus, it’s a great way for parents to show an interest in what their child enjoys.

Filter content

Whether it’s double checking all the games and apps that your child is using before they start using them, getting a content filter or both, it’s absolutely crucial to double- and triple-check the content your child is accessing on a regular basis. “Have an agreement with your child that they ask permission before downloading anything or set up a pin on the device to prevent downloads,” says Leonie. Websites like eSafety.gov.au and Common Sense Media provide content guides for parents, while content filters such as Family Zone ensure that adult content and undesirable apps are blocked from view. YouTube kids is also a good app if your child enjoys watching YouTube, but you want to be sure the videos they’re watching are appropriate.

Establish boundaries

Setting boundaries around screen time and Internet usage is another key part of safety, and it’s one that many parents struggle with. “Start good screen time behaviours early,” says Leonie, who has four children of her own. “Set boundaries around how much use the child can have and don’t allow them to go to bed with their smartphone.” It’s also important to limit how and where children can use their screens. “It’s got to be within a parent’s eyeline and hearing,” says Leonie. “Parents need to sit with younger kids and watch their online behaviour up until the early teens, or until a parent really feels their child has good sense of online responsibility.”

Support other parents

Communication is key – and not just with your child. It’s essential to support your child’s school in their cyber safety campaign, as well as respect the boundaries and opinions of other parents, even if they differ from your own. “There’s a lot of peer group pressure amongst parents,” says Leonie. “A lot of parents will come up to me and say, ‘Am I being too strict? Because somebody is telling me that I am.’ You have to respect that other parents have different expectations and standards around these things.” Your rules relate to your child and your family values and that’s OK if they’re different from other families.