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Guide to internet safety for kids

Protecting your children and vetting all safety checks around the home is a 24/7 job. Whilst your home itself might be a safe and secure environment, the internet is a whole different world and what a scary one it can be for our young ones. So with that in mind, let us give you the definitive guide to internet safety for kids.

Children and the internet

You may try and fight it but it’s the world we live in now - the era of technology and computers. As soon as little humans can wiggle their fingers, they’re looking for mischief to get into. One minute they’re prodding at a screen, the next they’re scrolling and before you know it, they’re giving their grandparents a tutorial on how to use a tablet. Make no mistake, the new generation can pick up the tricks of new technology far quicker than their predecessors and with that, it means they can also pick up bad habits and run the risk of travelling to dark corners of the web.

Generations before would only have to focus on street safety, stranger danger etc. but now, added on, is making sure our children don’t venture off down the wrong streets online. A task made more difficult when you can’t always be there to virtually hold their hands.

Most popular apps and websites for kids

If you’re a parent, you’ll probably be able to create this list yourself in an instant, but these are some of the most popular sites and apps that kids today are using to indulge in content or to communicate with. We’ll give you safety tips for each to help keep your kids safer online.

YouTube - a video sharing platform with nearly every brand owning a channel including the likes of Disney and Barbie. Kids can spend hours indulging in video content with the autoplay feature.

Safety Tips:

  • Luckily, age-restricted videos are for users who are signed in and are over the age of 18. Make sure to set up the account for your child, giving the correct age, or use the YouTube Kids app
  • You can report videos but chances are if they do violate any of the policies, especially regarding child safety, YouTube would have removed it
  • If your child is very young, restrict their use on the app/tablet by setting up passwords and/or setting up lock screen timers
  • Teach your kids to avoid clicking links in the descriptions or comment sections to avoid spam or malicious links
  • TikTok - a video-sharing social networking app made for creating short music, dance or lip-sync short-looping videos.

    Safety Tips:

  • You have to be 13 years or over. If you find your child has an account, who is under the age limit, you can alert TikTok by emailing them on privacy@tiktok.com, where they will promptly take appropriate action
  • You can block the app on your child’s phone by following instructions on parental controls and how to enable them on your associated app stores (Apple App Store or Google Play Store)
  • TikTok offers ‘Family Pairing’ whereby it links a parent’s TikTok account to their teen’s to allow the parent to control their child’s digital wellbeing including, screen time management, direct messages ( by limiting who can send messages to the account or allowing you to disable direct messaging completely - direct messaging is disabled for accounts registered between ages 13-15) and it also comes with ‘Restricted Mode’ to restrict content that may be inappropriate for all audiences
  • As the app is focused on music, pop culture, film voice overs etc. your child is likely to come across explicit or inappropriate content but you can use their ‘Restricted Mode’ and keep a close eye
  • Instagram - the instant photo sharing app that also allows videos and story sharing.

    Safety Tips:

  • Lots of young people can use this app (Instagram requires you to be at least 13) but be mindful of creepy followers and comments. Profiles can be made private in the settings so that only friends and people your child trusts can follow them
  • There is a block feature to stop certain profiles from following or seeing your content as well as searching for you
  • Kids can focus too much on how many ‘likes’ they have and it can become obsessive or unhealthy as they may start to compare themselves. Make sure to help steer them towards healthy feeds and not to focus on measuring the ‘likes’. Instagram responded and adapted to this by not showing the count of likes on posts anymore. For instance, if a post has 22 likes, Instagram would have had ‘22 likes’ noted under it, now it notes ‘Liked by ‘a user’ and others’
  • Snapchat - an app that was made famous for its time limits on photos and videos, meaning they would disappear soon after sending.

    Safety Tips:

  • Again, you have to be 13 to use the app but that doesn’t stop kids signing up. Snapchat asks for you to report underage accounts to them
  • This app unintentionally enticed ‘sexting’ as users sent carefree photos because of the disappearing feature. However, they forgot that ‘screenshotting’ exists and so it’s important to warn that no image is safe from disappearing really
  • Snapchat allows you to change your privacy settings so you can choose who can send you Snaps or view your Stories and location on Snap Map
  • Facebook - an online social network where friends and family typically share updates, photo albums and news on.

    Safety Tips:

  • You have to be 13 to have an account and Facebook protects sensitive information, including minors' contact information, school or date of birth, from appearing in search to a public audience
  • Anyone can block people in case any cyberbullying or suspicious, predatory-like behaviour occurs
  • Facebook is for sharing and connecting with friends, typically posts are set to being shared only to friends but you can update extra privacy settings so that the public can’t scroll through your cover photos or profile pictures
  • Remind your children that whatever they post can’t easily be taken back, even if they do delete the posts as people can screenshot, save images or recall information quickly. The internet never forgets
  • In the Messenger app, the platform allows users to delete messages but once you’ve sent an image before deleting it, recipients can save those images into their phone’s storage
  • Only accept friend requests from people you know and trust
  • The app allows users to ‘tag’ their friends in photos and statuses that can show up on their timelines. Facebook allows much more freedom with privacy settings so you can set up a feature to always review any tags before they show up on your timeline
  • Twitter - allows users to ‘tweet’ out character-limiting posts along with images and videos.

    Safety Tips:

  • Twitter allows you to protect your tweets meaning you can only allow your followers to view your tweets or those profiles you approve of
  • You can have the option of only receiving direct messages from people you follow rather than just anyone
  • You can block, report or hide content and users from your feed and profile
  • You can change the privacy settings to turn off receiving direct messages
  • Twitter can be a noisy place with many hiding behind anonymity, so make sure your child doesn’t spend too much time on here or gets into needless arguments. Remember to use the block and report feature for any harassers
  • Be careful of inappropriate content as Twitter is quite liberal and less restricting than other platforms. To help protect your child from seeing such content, in their account’s privacy and safety settings, you can untick ‘Display media that may contain sensitive content’
  • WhatsApp - a messaging app that allows people to send text messages, voice messages and make calls as well as make group chats. It also allows users to share stories and status updates.

    Safety Tips:

  • WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption so nobody can eavesdrop in chats but be mindful of this if you suspect any unusual behaviour
  • You have to be 16 to have an account, so be aware of this if your child asks for one
  • You can join public groups, ask to join private ones or start your own but it’s best to encourage your children to only join private groups with people they know
  • If your child is on WhatsApp and you’re ok with it, be careful of its automatic connection as the app automatically join your address book contacts with those who are also on WhatsApp
  • This app has a block feature to stop someone contacting you again on the platform, but also make sure you block the contact off your child’s phone too if you need to
  • Just like all forms of social media, remember that even though these chats may be ‘private’, no matter what is sent or deleted, as anyone can screenshot messages or images
  • Maintaining child safety online

    Password protection

    If you’re allowing your child to have screen time, especially the little ones, it may be best to have their gadget password-protected so you can monitor and manage their screen time. Whatever the device, make sure you have gone through all parental controls and settings for any apps installed already and for the phone itself to help prevent any misuse or random orders.

    When downloading apps, always check the payment settings and details. Many apps come with in-app purchases and it can be easy for your child to accidentally spend your money with a click or swipe.

    If you need help with creating a good password for your kids, check out our guide to creating a strong password. Be sure to do it with them so they’ll remember it, too!

    Screen time balance

    As easy and tempting as it may be to let the screen/tablet/mobile do the childminding, leaving your child with an internet device with no time limit will undoubtedly leave them scrolling until bedtime, or even all night as staring at bright screens interrupts our sleep cycles and ease of going to sleep.

    Set up a healthy reward system, e.g. once homework is done, they can have 30 minutes of screen time. Having control and time limits helps you monitor better and helps deter children from being too attached or engaging in negative behaviour or being subject to it.

    Social media safety

    Typically all social media platforms come with an age restriction and encourage you to report any underage accounts - if suspected - so they can take appropriate action. However, that doesn’t stop kids joining and not wanting to miss out, something that becomes extremely hard to control when all their friends are on these platforms.

    Make sure that when your young one asks for a phone or to use social media, have a talk with them. Stress the importance of privacy and how nothing on the internet is truly private and that things can be permanent. No matter what they write, post, share or capture, even if they delete them, people can still screenshot. Mixed with a mean agenda, this can be extremely damaging and manipulative.

    Make a compromise, depending on how old they are and how comfortable you are with them being on social media, tell them you will be controlling their privacy and safety settings to avoid them coming across inappropriate content. Have an honest conversation about why and what you’re protecting them from, explain the need and use for block and report features etc.

    Dealing with trolls

    Closely linked to social media, you may have come across the term ‘trolling’ or ‘internet trolls’. Trolls on the internet are basically people who typically have anonymous accounts that deliberately post comments that are intended to stir up arguments, offend people or upset them. They are the wind-up merchants and spend their time on social media, mainly places like YouTube and Twitter, where the platforms are very public.

    Whilst some like arguments, others can be very dark and aim to hurt people emotionally so it’s so important to warn your children and prepare them for any troll encounters. This way, they will be better equipped to deal with them, as they should spot the signs and know when to block or report and to not take it to heart.

    For instance, if your child tweets something and a user replies with a hurtful or offensive remark and their profile is pretty anonymous, they’re more than likely trolling. The best way to deal with trolls is to never reply or engage with them. Their sole purpose is to rile people up and get attention. Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t forget you can block them too.

    Cyberbullying

    The main difference between internet trolls and cyberbullying is that trolls tend to be strangers on the internet looking for attention and may say deliberately stupid or offensive things on public threads to rile people up. Where cyberbullying is concerned, it is the same concept of bullying but just online. This typically concerns situations where children, for instance, after leaving school are still subjected to bullying by their peers online.

    Cyberbullies aren’t always someone you know and can be strangers, but what they share is the intimidation, threatening behaviour and harassing nature to constantly bully someone online. They may message them on different platforms and may even create anonymous accounts to do it.

    The signs to watch out for and best ways to protect your child against cyberbullying are:

  • To observe how your child’s behaviour or mental state changes from being online. Children often hide their feelings and don’t want to confide in anyone if they’re being bullied, especially if they feel threatened, are getting blackmailed or worry of the repercussions. Look out for your child being more withdrawn.
  • If their profiles are public or if you have access to their social media profiles, take the time to look out for any worrying comments on their posts or view their followers to see if anyone looks suspicious. For example, would you recognise a school friend of theirs that they once had negative encounters with before?
  • Especially platforms like Instagram, where all posts are pictures or videos, look out for your children becoming too obsessed and taking selfies with extreme filters. Are they just playing around, have they become too self-conscious or have had comments made? Either way, it isn’t healthy and is a good time for a chat on how unrealistic this platform can be. Reassure your children that most people are also using filters, direct them to more positive feeds and profiles, especially for girls with body-positive and inspiring profiles.
  • If you know your child is being bullied at school, talk to the school about their knowledge of social media in school and look out for any familiar faces on their social media. Be careful how you address this and talk to your child first.
  • If you do discover that your child is being cyberbullied, the first step is to collect any evidence. Take screenshots of messages, threats and of their profiles to help before you block the cyberbullies online.
  • Most social media platforms have steps in place to protect against harassment and cyberbullying, like the blocking and reporting features (check Facebook’s abuse resources for their info on bullying online). It’s also important to create an open and safe space for your children to be able to talk to you about it. If you suspect your child is being bullied online and they aren’t opening up, maybe ask them for advice for one of 'your friend’s children who is being bullied’ and try to get them to think about the ways they can resolve the situation and that it is always ok and important to tell.
  • Fun activities for kids (without a screen)

    The internet can be a wondrous and educational place, but too much of anything is never a good thing. What did kids do without the internet in days gone by? Here are some healthy alternatives to mix up your children’s hobbies:

  • Get outdoors and explore. The garden, the woods, the local beach or a makeshift den are all perfect places to inspire your kids to play, use their minds and imaginations, regardless of age
  • Take a trip to the library or treat them to a new book collection. If the internet is winning against books, try to find a book on something they’re interested in or have been looking into on their device to get them reading more. There are plenty of brilliant, fun and graphic books out there
  • Shake the dust and cobwebs off the toys and puzzles and ask your kids for help. Try getting out toys yourself to rummage through and sort and start playing. Your kids should soon get nosey and want to get involved naturally without having to be directed to. If this takes you to clearing out the garage, make sure your garage door is more secure
  • Think of fun projects to assign your kids to. Use what’s in the house, for example, get them to create a restaurant for you (play dough cutlery, artistic menus etc.)
  • Time for an art attack. Get them preoccupied with a fun, arty hobby. Kids love to create and any opportunity to get messy
  • Have them help around the home and make it fun. Maybe you need a gardening assistant? Get them excited and involved in your family’s new goal of growing your own vegetables and beautiful flowers. To keep them safe in the garden, check our guide on garden security
  • Keeping kids safe in the home

    No matter what your kids are up to, whether they’re safely indulging in an online game exploring other worlds or are building a den in the bedroom that’s now Narnia - home safety is important. Here’s our quick checklist on home safety for kids:

  • For babies and toddlers, safeguard and proof all electric outlets, sharp corners and high points. Check windows, stairs and highchairs and never leave them unsupervised
  • Need to head out and have a babysitter over? With wireless home security cameras, you can keep an eye on the house and be reassured if anything happens, your motion and alarm sensors will alert you on your device where you can stream live camera footage from wherever you are
  • Make sure your windows are kept locked and that there’s no way for them to climb onto window ledges
  • For a more in-depth guide on keeping kids safe at home, check out our home security and home safety for kids article.