Why internet safety matters for pre-teens
Children aged 9-11 years often have their own devices and go online by themselves. They use digital media and the internet for doing schoolwork and homework, playing games, watching videos, streaming TV shows and movies, listening to or downloading music, and general browsing. They might be communicating with other people through in-game chat and messaging apps like Discord and Messenger.
Because pre-teens might be online more independently, including with older children, they’ll come across internet safety risks.
As your child gets older, you’ll need to review risks and strategies for handling them. Our article on internet safety for teenagers has ideas.
Internet safety risks for pre-teens
There are 4 main kinds of internet safety risks for pre-teens.
These risks include coming across material that pre-teens might find upsetting, disgusting or otherwise uncomfortable, especially if they see it accidentally. This material might include:
- sexually explicit content in music videos, movies, online games or pornography
- real or simulated violence
- content that’s designed to shock or scare
- harmful user-generated content, like sites about drug use, self-harm, suicide or negative body image
- misinformation and fake news.
These risks 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 share personal information with strangers or provide contact details after clicking on a pop-up message.
These risks include behaving in inappropriate or hurtful ways or being the victim of this kind of behaviour. Examples include:
- impersonating others online
- creating content that reveals information about other people
- buying something without permission
- having trouble regulating online time.
Contract risks include children signing up to contracts, subscriptions or terms and conditions that they aren’t aware of or don’t fully understand. As a result, children might:
- be open to identity theft or fraud
- get inappropriate digital marketing messages or scam messages
- have their personal or family data collected
- agree to buy things or pay money without realising.
Practical precautions to protect pre-teens from internet safety risks
Although your child is becoming an independent internet user, you still need to protect your child from internet safety risks. Here are tips to help.
These tips use family relationships to keep your child safe and build their internet safety skills:
- Regularly go online with your child.
- Create a family media plan. It’s best to involve your child in creating the plan. Your plan could cover things like screen-free areas in your house and what online behaviour is OK.
- Check other parents’ internet safety rules before deciding whether your child can go to a friend’s house. For example, is your child’s friend allowed to use social media, play R-rated video games, or use a device in the bedroom?
- Ask your child to ‘friend’ you on social media. Friending your child means you can follow what they’re interested in and who they’re connected to online.
These tips involve guiding your child towards age-appropriate technology choices:
- Show your child how to use safe search settings on browsers.
- Check that games, YouTube channels, websites and TV programs are appropriate for your child. You can do this by looking at reviews on Common Sense Media.
- If you use TV streaming services, set up profiles for different household members. This can make it less likely that your child will come across inappropriate programs.
- Encourage your child to use child-friendly messaging apps like Messenger Kids.
Things to avoid
- Avoid using surveillance apps to monitor your child’s online activity. This can send 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.
- Avoid using internet filters at home. This might encourage children to go online in unfiltered environments away from home. Also, children might feel they can’t talk to you about a negative online experience because they’re worried about getting into trouble for not using a filter.
Internet safety precautions are important. But it’s also important to help your child learn how to use the internet safely and responsibly and respond positively to online risks. Good ways to do this include role-modelling internet use, talking about online content and online reputation, and showing your child how to handle privacy and online purchases.
Role-modelling internet use
Children do as you do, so being a role model for your child is a powerful and positive way to guide your child’s behaviour when it comes to internet use.
You can model safe and healthy internet use by using digital media and the internet in the way you want your child to use it, now and in the future. For example, you might keep internet-connected devices out of bedrooms, and use technology for positive purposes like sending supportive messages to friends.
Talking about internet use and online content
Talking openly about your own internet use and encouraging your child to do the same will help your child feel they can talk to you if they have a bad online experience. And sharing negative online experiences with a trusted adult is the best way for your child to deal with online risks and develop resilience.
You can get your child talking by asking them to explain the apps, games and content they enjoy. You might say, ‘Who are your favourite streamers on Twitch? What games do they play? What do you like about them?’
It’s good to encourage your child to develop a sense of what they like and don’t like on the internet and to explain their choices to friends. You might say, ‘That video seemed to make you uncomfortable. It’s OK to tell your friends that you’d rather not watch videos like that’.
You could also explain that not all online information is true or helpful. For example, some information is made up or deliberately misleading. Encouraging your child to think critically about online content helps your child develop digital literacy.
And it’s important for your child to understand that if something online seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.
Building an online reputation
Your child’s online reputation is shaped by their online activities. This means your child needs to understand the consequences of uploading photos, videos and other personal content. Once this content is online, it’s very hard to get rid of and will become part of your child’s permanent online reputation. Also, photos and content can be altered or shared without your child’s permission.
It’s a good idea to encourage your child to think about the online content or behaviour their future self might be comfortable with. 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, and you discuss them before your child uploads them.
Taking care with privacy and personal information
It’s important for your child to be careful about what they share with people they don’t know.
You might say, ‘There are bad people on the internet. We don’t want them to know where we live. Never give your name, address, date of birth or personal photos 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 they enter on gaming sites like Roblox or Minecraft, online competition entry forms and so on. You could agree with your child that they’ll check with you before filling out online competitions or memberships. And read terms and conditions with your child before agreeing to them.
And 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.
Help your child to look at and choose appropriate privacy and safety settings on any devices, programs and social media platforms, and explain why this is important. You can also talk about how personal data is collected on YouTube, TV streaming apps, gaming platforms and so on.
You might find that your child is more up to date with changing privacy and safety settings than you are. You can make the most of this by asking your child to share what they know about these topics. Then you and your child can work together to adjust the settings on all your devices and apps.
Avoiding online purchases
It’s a good idea to switch off one-click purchasing and agree on rules about in-app and other online purchases. For example, you might say, ‘If you want to buy something in a game, 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.