Why internet safety matters
Children aged 9-11 years often have their own devices, which they use to go online by themselves. They use digital media and the internet for doing schoolwork and homework, playing games, listening to or downloading music, and general browsing. They might be communicating with other people through 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.
Internet safety risks for pre-teens
There are three main kinds of internet risks for pre-teens.
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:
- 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.
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 meet someone he doesn’t know, 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.
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 with your child and ask him for suggestions. Your plan could cover things like screen-free areas in your house and what online behaviour is OK. If you follow the family media rules too, you’ll be role-modelling good online behaviour.
- Talk with your child about ways to restrict the content she sees, like using safe search settings on browsers. You might need to show your child how to do this.
- 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 he’s interested in and who he’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 they can’t talk to you about a negative online experience because they’re worried about getting into trouble for not using a filter.
As your child gets older, you’ll need to review the strategies you use. 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 she’s online, so it’s important to teach your child to manage internet safety risks for herself. This will help your child build digital resilience, which is the ability to respond positively and deal with risks she encounters online.
You can do this by:
- being a role model for safe 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
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 he can talk to you if he 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 he encounters online. It’s important for your child to know that he can talk to you about bad online experiences and that he won’t get into trouble.
You can get your child talking by asking her to explain the apps, games and content she 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 he likes and doesn’t like on the internet, and to defend his choices to his 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 information on the internet is true or helpful – for example, some news is made up. Encouraging your child to question things she finds on the internet helps her develop 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.
Thinking about online reputation
Your child’s reputation is shaped by her online activities. This means your child needs to understand the consequences of uploading photos, videos and other personal content.
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 he uploads them.
Taking care with privacy and personal information
It’s important for your child to be careful about what she shares with people she 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 he enters on websites like gaming sites or competitions. You could agree with your child that he’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.
Avoiding online purchases
It’s a good idea to switch off one-click purchasing and to agree on 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’.
Your child should also 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 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.