Why internet safety matters
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, listening to or downloading music, and general browsing. They might be communicating with other people through in-game chat, messaging apps like Discord and social media.
Because pre-teens 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 four 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:
- sexually explicit content in music videos, movies or online games, or 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
- fake news that seems believable.
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 they don’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.
Contract risks include children signing up to unfair contracts, terms or 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 emails
- have their personal or family data collected from apps and devices like fitness trackers.
Protecting children 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 your child from internet safety risks:
- Create a family media plan. It’s best to create your plan with your child and ask them 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 they can see, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Identifying and managing internet safety risks with pre-teens
You won’t always be around to supervise your child when they’re online, so it’s important to teach your child to manage internet safety risks. This will help your child build digital resilience, which is the ability to respond positively and deal with online risks.
You can do this by:
- being a role model for safe internet use
- talking with your child about internet use and online content
- guiding the way your child builds their online reputation
- teaching your child to be careful with personal information
- 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 they can talk to you if they have 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 they encounter online. It’s important for your child to know that they can talk to you about bad online experiences without getting into trouble.
You can get your child talking by asking them to explain the apps, games and content they enjoy. You might say, ‘PewDiePie seems weird to me but he must have something special to attract more than 108 million followers! What do you like about him?’
It’s good to encourage your child to develop a sense of what they like and don’t like on the internet, and to defend 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 news is made up. Encouraging your child to question things they find on the internet helps your child 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.
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 can become part of your child’s permanent online reputation. Also, photos 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 before uploading 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 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 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.
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 and then working 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 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.