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How to teach your child about online safety

February brings Safer Internet Day and as the world becomes increasingly connected via technology, you may wonder how to make sure your child is safe online. 

However, it is just as important for children to understand how privacy keeps them safe in the real world, as it is online.

In this article, we will explore how to talk to children in an age-appropriate way about what privacy is, understand why it is important and help them to stay safe both online and offline.

Talking to children about privacy

While sometimes our constant exposure to media may make us think that abductions by strangers and bad things happen every day, it is important to remember that these occurrences are still very rare.

However, from a young age it is important to teach children about what is and what isn’t acceptable, in regards to sharing with others.

Have an age-appropriate conversation with your child about potential risks online and offline

When talking to children about privacy, it’s important to try and tailor this to their age group, as overloading a younger child with information about stranger danger may be overwhelming and even scary.

Younger Children

Children of preschool age (two and three year olds) will not yet know what a stranger is, or be able to tell who’s harmless and who’s not, so it’s best to focus on basic safety rules and demonstrate safety behaviours. 

Around age four, many children will have heard about strangers and so this is a good time to start a conversation about how to stay safe.

Explain that a stranger is someone that they don’t know and discuss that while it is okay to talk to someone new when you are with them, it is not okay to talk to unknown adults on their own. 

Having a plan to follow if you become separated when out about is also a useful idea.

You may tell your child that if they get lost in a shop for example, to go to where you pay for things, tell someone they are lost and not move from there. 

You can also tell them that if they are approached by a stranger, to go straight to the person who’s taking care of them (whether that’s you or another caregiver). 

Young children also learn well through repetition, so remind them of these rules whenever the opportunity arises

(for example, places where there are likely to be bigger crowds or if they get a new device).

Older Children

Older children will naturally start to develop a stronger sense of privacy, especially as they near puberty.

In a survey carried out by the Good Play Guide in December 2021, parents voiced concerns that while child-friendly online platforms such as Youtube Kids had built in protection for child users, as they grow older, they will have more access online that could put them at risk. 

As children around this age may also become more prone to risk-taking behaviour, whether that’s out and about or online, it may be useful to have an open discussion about risks such as bullying and grooming. 

Maintaining an open channel of communication with your child is the best way to ensure they feel comfortable talking about their life and any worries related to experiences both online and offline.

Utilise Connected Gadgets

Xplora X5 Watch recommended by the Good Toy Guide

Some connected gadgets bridge the gap between offline and online dangers by featuring technology that can help children to feel safer when they are out exploring, and allow parents to stay connected.

The Xplora Watch is a connected activity gadget that can also look out for children when they are out and about.

While encouraging exploration and independence outdoors with its step tracker and camera, it also uses GPS technology which allows you to keep an eye on where they are, stay in touch with calls and messages, and even set alerts when they reach or leave a certain location. 

The watch can not receive any unsolicited calls as all the contacts are managed in the app by parents/guardians, which is another great safeguarding feature.

This works both ways, as while putting your mind at ease as a parent, children also feel safe knowing that their caregiver can see where they are and are easily contactable if they are lost, need to check-in, or need help.

Some connected gadgets bridge the gap between offline and online dangers by featuring technology that can help children to feel safer when they are out exploring, and allow parents to stay connected.

The Xplora Watch is a connected activity gadget that can also look out for children when they are out and about.

Xplora X5 Watch recommended by the Good Toy Guide

While encouraging exploration and independence outdoors with its step tracker and camera, it also uses GPS technology which allows you to keep an eye on where they are, stay in touch with calls and messages, and even set alerts when they reach or leave a certain location. 

The watch can not receive any unsolicited calls as all the contacts are managed in the app by parents/guardians, which is another great safeguarding feature.

This works both ways, as while putting your mind at ease as a parent, children also feel safe knowing that their caregiver can see where they are and are easily contactable if they are lost, need to check-in, or need help.

Teach children about the importance of sensitive data

In the Good Play Guide survey, parents also voiced concerns about online dangers –

“There are obvious dangers about being outside unsupervised but online threats may be less obvious and children can be naive about who and what they see online.” 

It is important to have conversations with children about how people may not be who they say they are, especially online, where you can’t visibly see their identity as you would in person. 

Discuss the importance of never giving out personal information or posting sensitive data (such as passwords, identification or bank details).

This is because it can put you at risk if it falls into the wrong hands.

You can reinforce this by bringing it into the real world:

For example, they wouldn’t give their phone number or computer password to a stranger on the street, so why would they give it to somebody they don’t know online?

Model sensible behaviour both online and offline for your children to follow

Finally, your child’s best role model is you, so set a positive example of safe behaviour around strangers.

For example, don’t overshare on social media and make your pages private if you tend to post about where you are and what you’re doing frequently.

Summary

Now more than ever, it is important to us that our children stay safe.

One of the best ways we can prepare children to stay safe in today’s connected world is by starting the conversation at home. 

Talking to children in an age-appropriate way about what privacy is and why it is important is a good place to start.

While younger children will benefit from simple rules and safety plans, older children will be able to begin to understand how privacy keeps them safe online and offline. 

When used safely, connected gadgets also can provide a useful resource for staying safe and connected while allowing children valuable independence.