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Mum, dad: the internet's not evil (just keep up the safety chat)

Today, February 5th 2019, is Safer Internet Day – so we’re asking families all over the land to keep the conversation going


Parents – they’re always going to fret. But the latest stats reveal they’re worrying more than ever before about the internet and how their kids are using it, and are now less likely to see it as a benefit.



Staring at slime videos (not)

Digital has become firmly embedded in kids’ lives, particularly when it comes to their beloved YouTube (on average they spend two hours daily here, according to the Childwise Monitor Report). Among 5- to 8-year-olds, 86% use YouTube, rising to almost all 11-16s (96%). It’s worth noting here that they might not just be staring at slime: kids are more clued up than they’re given credit for.


While two in five 5-6 year olds are now using YouTube on a daily basis (and more than half of 3-4 year olds now online). Yet few sites are a digitally safe playground like Beano.com


So kids are online younger, and generally for longer across all age groups, with some being able to do so away from communal areas in the family home (seven in ten 8-12 year olds go online in their own room, mainly on their mobile phones). While seven in ten 12-15 year olds who own a smartphone are allowed to take it to bed, found Ofcom research.


All the while their parents are worried about issues such as the information companies are collecting about their child online (more than 50% are concerned about this, according to Ofcom), their child giving out personal details to inappropriate people (41%), and cyberbullying (40%). Hmm, all this anxiety isn’t helping the UK’s insomnia levels.


‘It should be as ordinary as talking about the dog’

Today, February 5th, is Safer Internet Day, a worldwide event to promote the safe and responsible use of technology for kids and young people. In 2018 the campaign targeted 45% of kids across 140 countries, but is striving for more reach as digital becomes an ever-more vital part of kids’ lives.


While many schools across the UK are taking part in Safer Internet Day, family should play a big part, too. Although parents might find discussing potential online dangers with kids difficult, particularly if they’re young, and/or the fact they don’t want to scare them or take away their innocence, plus there may well be a knowledge gap.


In fact, less than half of parents have internet safety conversations with kids regularly (at least every few weeks) in the 8-11 age group (46%), and even less in the 12-15 age group (35%), found Ofcom. Worrying when stats revealed the age group 12-15 felt vulnerable when it came to online stress – with 78% feeling there is pressure to look popular on social media; and 16% feeling this all of the time.


‘We’d advise parents to have regular conversations about the internet and social media from a young age – it should be as ordinary as talking about the weather, the dog, or something you’ve watched on TV,’ says Jo Hardy, head of Parent Services at YoungMinds, a charity committed to improving children’s wellbeing and mental health. ‘Make time to chat while you’re playing football, cooking, playing together, walking to school or going for a drive. You don’t need to pry or quiz your child about every website they’ve seen, but checking in for a minute or two can make a huge difference.’


As Jo points out, parents can’t police everything kids do online, but they can keep the lines of communication open and help them navigate the digital landscape in a positive and safe way.


How to talk to kids about internet safety


Parents, it’s over to you:


Forget learning the ins and outs of all the latest apps – teach kids about behaviour choices:

‘It’s like teaching your child to cross the road: you’ll make sure they hold your hand when they’re very young, but as they grow older you want them to assess the risks and stay safe more independently,’ says Jo. ‘You can set up parental controls to prevent access to harmful content online, but your child may well learn how to get round these. Make sure your child is able to make good decisions for themselves, and that they know you will be supportive if they have accessed anything distressing. Try to help your child manage their internet time for themselves as well, and understand the positive effects of doing a variety of activities.’


The internet is NOT evil, embrace the good stuff:

‘Remember the positives about the online world, as well as the negatives, and to take a balanced, collaborative approach,’ says Jo. ‘Social media can help kids be creative, have fun and talk to friends – but also help them to understand that people’s online image may not reflect their lives offline, and the ‘perfect’ lives that people present probably aren’t real. Help your child to understand that they shouldn’t feel the need to be available all the time on social media. It’s okay to take a break. Remind your child that every social media platform has privacy settings, and show them how to use them. Make sure your child understands about how to keep information private, and how to report or block things that aren’t appropriate.’


Get involved and ask your child to teach you

Yes, you might be ridiculed as you attempt to play Fortnite, or start lip synching on TikTok, but taking part is a great way to learn (and some of those slime vids are mesmerising …) ‘Ask your child to teach you about their favourite apps, games or websites, and to show you new ones that they want to try. This will give you an understanding of how they work, and will help you to have informal conversations around your child’s internet use,’ says Jo. ‘Talk about what you like about them and whether you have any concerns. They’ll love that you’ve taken an interest and it will keep the lines of communication open. Tell them that you won’t overreact if they tell you about something they’ve seen which is worrying them. You’d much rather they talked to you than keep it to themselves.’


*For more on Safer internet Day, including videos to help kids learn about issues such as privacy, visit the website.

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