Why internet safety matters

Children aged 9-11 years often have their own devices, which they use to go online by themselves. They use the internet for doing schoolwork and homework, playing games, listening to or downloading music, and general browsing. They might be starting to use in-game chat and other social media.

Because pre-teens are online more and might be online more independently, including with older children, they might come across new internet safety risks.

When you teach your child about internet use and internet safety, you help protect her from risky or inappropriate content and activities. And your child gets to make the most of her online experience, with its potential for learning, exploring, being creative and connecting with others.

Internet safety risks for pre-teens

There are three main kinds of internet risks for pre-teens.

Content risks
These risks include coming across material that some pre-teens might find upsetting, disgusting or otherwise uncomfortable, especially if they see it accidentally. This material might include:

  • pornography
  • real or simulated violence
  • things that are designed to shock or scare
  • harmful user-generated content, like sites about drug use, self-harm, suicide or negative body image.

Contact risks
These include children coming into contact with people they don’t know or with adults posing as children online. For example, a child might be invited or persuaded to meet someone he doesn’t know, share personal information with strangers, or provide contact details after clicking on a pop-up message.

Conduct risks
Conduct risks include behaving in inappropriate or hurtful ways, or being the victim of this kind of behaviour. Examples include:

  • cyberbullying
  • sexting
  • impersonating others online
  • creating content that reveals information about others.

Other conduct risks include buying something without permission and having trouble regulating online time.

Protecting your child from internet safety risks: tips

Although your child is becoming an independent internet user, there are still some basic things you can do to protect her from internet safety risks:

  • Create a family media plan. It’s best to create your plan by talking with your child. Your plan could cover things like screen-free areas in your house and what online behaviour is OK. If you follow the rules too, you’ll be role-modelling good online behaviour.
  • Talk with your child about ways to restrict the content he sees, like using safe search settings on browsers. You might need to show your child how to do this.
  • Take an interest in what your child likes to do online and show interest in your child’s online activities. This will help to keep the lines of trust and communication open.
  • Help your child use the internet safely by going online together. For example, you could show your child how to check the privacy settings on an app.
  • Check that games, websites and TV programs are appropriate for your child. You can do this by looking at reviews on Common Sense Media.
  • Ask your child to ‘friend’ you on social media. Friending your child means you can follow what she’s interested in and who she’s connected to online.
  • Find out how to make complaints about offensive or illegal online content.

It’s best to avoid using surveillance apps that let you secretly monitor your child’s online activity because this sends the message that you don’t trust your child. It’s better to talk openly about your own internet use and encourage your child to do the same.

Technical internet safety tools like internet filters don’t necessarily reduce online risk for children in this age group. Using filters at home might encourage some children to go online in unfiltered environments away from home. Also children might feel that they can’t talk about a negative online experience because they’re worried they might get into trouble for not using a filter.

As your child gets older, you’ll need to review your strategies. Our article on internet safety for teenagers has ideas.

Teaching your child to identify and manage internet safety risks

You won’t always be around to supervise your child when he’s online, so it’s important to teach your child to manage internet safety risks for himself. This will help your child build digital resilience, which is the ability to respond positively and deal with risks he encounters online.

You can do this by:

  • role-modelling internet use
  • talking with your child about online content and reputation
  • guiding the way your child shares information online
  • teaching your child about online purchases.

It’s all about helping your child become a responsible digital citizen.

Role-modelling internet use

Your child learns from you. This means you can model safe and healthy internet use by using the internet in the way you want your child to use it – for example, by not having internet-connected devices in bedrooms or bathrooms, and by using technology for positive purposes like sending supportive messages to friends.

Talking about online content

Talking openly about your own internet use and encouraging your child to do the same will help your child feel she can talk to you if she has a bad experience online. Sharing negative online experiences with a trusted adult is the best way for your child to develop resilience and deal with risks she encounters online. It’s important for your child to know that she can talk to you about bad online experiences and that she won’t get into trouble.

You can get your child talking by asking him to explain the apps, games and content he enjoys. You might say, ‘PewDiePie seems weird to me but he must have something special to attract more than 50 million followers! What do you like about him?’.

It’s good to encourage your child to develop a sense of what she likes and doesn’t like on the internet, and to defend her choices with friends. You might say, ‘That video seemed to make you uncomfortable. Was there something you didn’t like? It’s OK to tell your friends that you’d rather not watch videos like that’.

You could also explain that not all information on the internet is true or helpful – for example, some news is made up. Encouraging your child to question things he finds on the internet helps him develop the ability to tell whether a website has good-quality information. This is part of digital and media literacy.

And it’s important for your child to understand that if something seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. Hoax-Slayer is a site that can help you and your child uncover online scams and hoaxes. And if your child isn’t sure about a site’s credibility, she can ask herself, ‘Whose interest is this in?’. The answer can help her work out what sites and offers are dodgy.

Thinking about online reputation

Your child’s reputation is shaped by his online activities. This means your child needs to understand the consequences of uploading photos, videos and other personal content. Once content is online, it’s very hard to get rid of and can become part of your child’s permanent online reputation.

For example, you might say, ‘Some photos and videos might seem OK to you now, but you might feel differently about them in the future and not want people to see them’.

You could agree that your child shows you posts, images and other content before she uploads them.

Taking care with privacy and personal information

It’s important for your child to be careful about what he shares with people he doesn’t know.

You might say, ‘There are some bad people on the internet. We don’t want them to know where we live. Never give your name, address or date of birth to anyone online. Tell me if anyone asks you for personal information’. It might help to compare online and offline behaviour by saying something like ‘You wouldn’t give that information to a stranger at the bus stop, would you?’.

Your child also needs to be careful about information she enters on websites like gaming sites or competitions. You could agree with your child that she’ll check with you before filling out online competitions or memberships.

Help your child to look at and choose appropriate privacy and safety settings on any devices, programs and social media that he uses, and explain why this is important. For example, ‘If you and your friends are talking online, you don’t want the whole world to see, so choose the friend filter. But if one of your friends doesn’t have the filter on, anybody can see whatever he says and what you’ve said to him’.

Avoiding online purchases

Your child should be careful about clicking pop-ups. Some pop-ups that seem safe can lead to pornography sites or ask for personal or financial information.

It’s also a good idea for you and your child to agree on some rules about in-app and other online purchases like ebooks. For example, you might say, ‘if you want to buy a new game or a book, ask me first and we’ll talk about it’.

It’s OK if your rules are different from those of other families. If you’ve thought them through and you’re happy with the way they’re working, you’re helping to keep your child safe online.