Prepare your kids to be online safely

Letting your kids loose on the web for the first time ever can be a nerve-wracking experience (probably more for you than them.)  

The internet has been around for years but according to an Australian report only 46% of parents are confident dealing with their children's online risks, and 95% want more information on creating a safe online world.

So how can you reduce danger and support your kids as they explore the power of the connected world? 

The positive news is that while there may be threats online, there are heaps of  excellent resources available to help you support your family  in the online world. Here are some valuable tips and tactics to help you and your kids understand and navigate life online.  

1. Get involved - use parental controls and family filters

Laughing family on lounge together

The internet is incredible, but there's a bunch of dubious stuff out there, often just one click away. Getting involved with your children's online world from day one can set them up for a lifetime of digital awareness. 

Going online together demonstrates your interest in their online life, and they'll be more inclined to trust you. Share your online experiences, show each other funny and exciting things you've found or photos you've taken. 

Why not ask your kids to show you how to use an app they love and watch them enjoy the role reversal? After all, this generation has grown up with devices, so there's a fair chance you'll have plenty to learn if you're prepared to listen. Engage your kids in conversation about the internet, the latest apps and devices, and what their friends say and do online. Taking an interest from the start can keep you on the front foot if anything goes awry.  

Check out  My First Mobile Agreement as a great starting point, to help you and your kids understand the risks and benefits of being online. An easy way to make sure kids have a healthy relationship with their digital devices is to involve them in setting boundaries around acceptable screen time, and deciding together. ESafety has heaps of great child-friendly resources available to help get the conversation started.  

Parental controls are very handy. There are multiple ways you can manage your child's access to the internet. Start out by checking your device's operating system, search engine, and specific gaming platforms to help control what your kids can see and do online. You can monitor their activity and also have the option of putting restrictions on a range of their devices. 

Apple's on-device parental controls have a variety of options for parents. For example, when it comes to managing screen time, you can remotely set 'downtime' to lock your kids out of their phones for specific periods – an excellent way to keep your family dinner phone-free (works for mum and dad as well!). You can also set time restrictions on specific apps if you're happy with your kids spending time with educational apps but want to limit games. Apple's latest parental controls also allow you to set up content restrictions for books, TV shows, movies and apps or choose whether your child may install new apps, delete apps or make in-app purchases. And all these settings are flexible, so as your kids get more responsible, you can give them greater control. Check out  Apple's instructions for setting this up on iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.  

You'll find parental controls in most other phones, and for Android-powered phones (including Samsung, Google Pixel, Huawei) Google has produced an exclusive free app called Family Link (thanks, Google!).  The app sets digital ground rules to help your kids understand their boundaries while getting acquainted with life online. It gives you full transparency over the sites and apps used. Like Apple's tools, it also tells you how long apps are being used for and allows limits to be set. Moreover, you must approve new apps installed on the device to ensure you’re not being hoodwinked.

Family Link isn't just about restricting kids. It's about educating them as well. It can recommend apps that their teachers have given the thumbs up to, and they can be added directly to their device with a single click. Breaks can also be mandated with its device-locking features, which forces kids to take a break to run around outside, do homework or sleep. And when your kids are out of the house, Family Link also has a feature that allows you to keep a watchful eye on them with location tracking on the go.

What's a family filter?

Family filters are programs which allow you to block certain types of content. You can choose from a range of filters specifically designed for different age groups, like under 10, or over 15. Choose an industry- approved filter to suit your needs at Family Friendly Filter scheme .

If you see something that raises alarm bells- you can lodge an illegal or offensive digital content complaint via the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner

2. Get password savvy

little boy with adult in kitchen  using his phone

The line between public and private is blurry these days, so it's important to talk to your children about personal information, what it is and why it's so valuable. Explain how entering information on devices and websites can potentially leave them exposed. Help your kids set up strong passwords, encourage them to be cautious when sharing information and help them strengthen their privacy settings on social media. 

Teach your kids from a young age not to share passwords with others or across different sites and accounts, and get them into the habit of using passphrases, so they're hard to guess but easy to remember.

For some great tips on safety check out our Parenting Tipsheet: Children’s Personal Information.   



3. Be a role model and think before you click

A dad and his toddler daughter look at a tablet screen together.

Set a positive example through your actions as a parent. Tell them what you value and how you expect others to behave. Show them that you're careful with your devices by locking the screen, turning your phone off at mealtimes, and never using your phone while you drive. You're the role model, so leading by example is the perfect way to get your kids to follow your lead. 

Try to have younger children use their devices in communal areas of the home. That way, if they come across something they weren't looking for, or that scares them, they can let you know straight away.

Everything you do online creates a digital trail. It's called your digital footprint and includes any information you view or publish online. Anything posted can be shared, copied and changed – putting it beyond your control.

Encourage kids to think before they click and explain the importance of  always  showing respect and good behaviour towards others.

There are some great tips on how to navigate this in our Parent Tipsheet: Digital Footprint

4. Set the ground rules

Remind your kids that there are actual costs involved with the equipment they use. Smartphones, tablets, laptops are all expensive to replace. Give them the responsibility of looking after their devices. Encourage awareness of data limits and set boundaries around how much data can be used and who will pay if they exceed their limit.

5. Stick to the ground rules

Setting digital ground rules and sticking to them is important. Talk to your kids about how much time they think they need online and agree on limits together. Decide what you believe is a healthy balance and take it from there. 

Consider creating a family timetable to manage downtime away from tech. Ensure that you build family rules into this - as your kids want your attention too, so if the rule is no phones at dinner, make it apply to you too. 

Support and encourage your kids in activities that don't involve a digital device, playing footy, reading a book or getting out for a family walk together. Before bed, encourage kids to turn off their devices. Lack of sleep can affect their concentration, memory and ability to thrive at school. Start your blackout an hour before bed to ensure a good night's sleep.

For helpful tips and tricks check out our Parenting Tipsheet: Balancing Screen Time 

If you need help setting rules, check out My First Mobile Agreement - it’s a great way to open the discussion with your kids. You need to be clear with them about what happens if they break the rules, and make sure they understand how they can earn their privileges back again should this happen.