Wellbeing

Eight ways you can help your child stay safe online

You may not be overly comfortable with TikTok or Snapchat. You may never have heard of some of the apps that young people are using to connect and communicate in 2022 —but as a parent, you need to know what they are and how they work so you can help your child stay safe.

We’ve asked some experts for their ideas on what parents can do when their child asks them for help in navigating problems that arise in the world of social media.

When a young person finds themselves being bullied online, what should they do and how can a parent support them? If a teenager finds a personal photo of themselves has been shared with others without their consent, what happens next? What is the emotional fallout and what are the legal implications for the person who has shared that image?

The online world has brought people closer together. It has broken down cultural and geographical barriers and it has become an important part of life for a generation of young people who use social media to learn, question and connect.

However, there is another side to the online world that can leave some young people feeling bullied, exposed, isolated and distressed — and they want to know more about how to protect themselves from those experiences.

The latest research from the eSafety Commission has found that while young people may be confident with technology, they want to learn more about how to stay safe online and they want more tools to help them safely navigate the online world.

They also want clear directions about where to get help when things go wrong and they want their parents, carers and teachers to know how to help them and to provide that support without any judgement.

“When a child learns to drive a car, we don’t just say ‘Here are the keys, off you go’, because they will crash. It’s the same with the online world and devices like smartphones. When you give your child a phone, you need to be beside them, ensuring they learn the rules and how to be safe, just as you are beside them when you help them learn to drive a car,” says Diane Furusho, Deputy Principal, Head of Wellbeing and Respectful Relations & Consent.

“Educating young people about how to stay safe online, and ensuring they have the tools and knowledge about how to do this, is a responsibility we must all share because our children want clear directions.”

Maria Bailey, Haileybury’s Director of Counselling Services, says parents and carers need to be calm and reassuring if their child comes to them with a social media issue. She says it’s important to remember that social media brings many benefits but we need to remain aware of the risks.

“Negative experiences online can have an impact but there are lots of benefits from the social connections that are made,” she says.

“As parents, it’s important we are open and non-judgemental about the online world so our children feel confident to ask for help to sort out any challenges that come up. The online world isn’t all bad – it’s about managing that world respectfully and safely.”

Here are eight ways in which you can help your child stay safe online:

  • Make your child aware that whatever they put on social media, stays on social media. They create a lasting digital footprint and images and content can crop up again at any time.
  • Remind your child that private settings may not be as private as they think and they’d probably be surprised how many other people can access their ‘private’ information.
  • Remind your child to only say and do online what they’d be comfortable saying and doing in the real world.
  • If a younger child wants a certain app on their smartphone, ask them why they want it and how they intend to use it, and make sure you check the age restrictions.
  • Create scenarios to discuss how to handle potential online situations. You could say, ‘A friend from work’s child was talking to a stranger online, what do you think about that?’ Base the situation on someone else and then ask your child what they think and what they would do.
  • Remind your child that they should only share information online with people they actually know — they wouldn’t talk to a stranger at the park or get in a stranger’s car so why talk to a stranger online?
  • A key fear for young people is that if something goes wrong online, their device will be taken away. Reassure your child that they can tell you when something goes wrong and that their device won’t be taken away.
  • It’s not always easy but, for younger children, try and have screen free areas in the home and have boundaries around when devices are used and not used, so your child has time to relax and switch off — literally.

Some useful resources for parents and carers, and details about consent laws and sharing images online, can be found on the eSafety Commissioner website and on the Raising Children Network website.