Why internet safety matters
Preschoolers like going online to look at videos or to play games. They can do this using computers, mobile phones, tablets, TVs and other devices.
There are safety risks for preschoolers online, although preschoolers won’t usually be exposed to as many risks as older children. That's because they’re less likely to be using the internet independently.
When you take some practical internet safety precautions, you protect your child from risky or inappropriate content and activities. And your child gets to make the most of their online experience, with its potential for learning, exploring, being creative and connecting with family and friends.
Internet safety risks for preschoolers
There are two main kinds of internet safety risks for preschoolers:
- Content risks: these risks include content that children might find upsetting, disgusting or otherwise uncomfortable. Examples are sexual content in movies and games, pornography, violence, images of cruelty to animals or programs meant for older children.
- Contract risks: these risks include children signing up to unfair contracts, terms or conditions that they aren’t aware of or don’t understand. For example, children might click a button that allows a business to send them inappropriate marketing messages or collect their personal or family data.
There are other internet safety issues, but they’re lower risk for preschoolers:
- Contact risks: these risks include children coming into contact with people they don’t know. For example, a child might use a communication app and talk to a stranger.
- Conduct risks: these risks include children acting in ways that might hurt others. For example, a child might destroy a game a friend or sibling has created. Accidentally making in-app purchases is another conduct risk.
Protecting preschoolers from internet safety risks: tips
You play a key role in reducing the risks that your child is exposed to on the internet. There are many practical things you can do to help your preschooler stay safe online.
Here are some ideas:
- Use digital media and the internet with your child or make sure you’re close by and aware of what your child is doing online. This way you can act quickly if your child is concerned or upset by something they’ve seen.
- Create a family media plan. Your plan could cover things like screen-free areas in your house, internet safety rules like not giving out personal information, and the programs, games and apps that are OK for your child to use.
- Use child-friendly search engines like Kiddle or Kidtopia, or content providers like ABC Kids, CBeebies, YouTube Kids or KIDOZ.
- Check that games, websites and TV programs are appropriate for your child. For example, you can look at reviews on Common Sense Media.
- Make sure older siblings follow your internet safety rules. For example, the rule might be that they can watch only age-appropriate programs with younger siblings, or that they can’t post photos or content about younger siblings without checking first.
- Set up a folder with bookmarks for your child’s favourite apps or websites so that they can easily find them. You can set up folders and bookmarks on all the devices that your child uses.
- Check privacy settings, use parental controls, block in-app purchases, disable one-click payment options and location services on your devices and internet-connected toys. Limit camera and video functions.
- Find out how to make complaints about offensive online content.
As your child gets older and more confident and starts to use the internet independently, you’ll need to review your strategies. Our article on internet safety for children aged 6-8 years has tips.
Teaching safe and responsible online behaviour
You can help your child learn how to use digital media and the internet safely, responsibly and enjoyably. If you teach your child how to manage internet safety risks and worrying experiences for themselves, your child will build digital resilience. This is the ability to deal with and respond positively to any risks they encounter online.
You can do this by:
- going online with your child
- being a good role model
- teaching your child about good and bad content
- teaching your child about in-app purchases.
Going online with children
Your child will get more out of being online if you’re watching or playing with your child. You can:
- get your child to show you websites that are fun or interesting
- ask your child to show you how to play the app or game that they’re playing
- talk about the videos they’re watching.
If you think the app or video isn’t appropriate, you could say, ‘This is a bit grown-up. Let’s find something else’. Then help your child to find something more appropriate.
Being a good role model
Your child learns from you. This means you can model safe and healthy internet use by using digital media in the way you want your child to use it now and in the future. Think about when and how you're using devices when your child is around. For example, you can keep internet-connected devices out of bedrooms.
It’s also a good idea to find out how grandparents and other people in your child’s life use the internet and try to agree on a shared approach.
Teaching children about good and bad online content
You can explain to your child that there’s good and bad content on the internet, including content that isn’t true. Encourage your child to talk to you if they see something upsetting, scary or worrying. For example, you could say, ‘Some videos on the internet can be upsetting or scary. Tell me if you see something that scares you or makes you unhappy’.
Teaching children about in-app purchases
Many games and apps have in-app purchases for things like character costumes and new levels. You could teach your child about these by saying something like, ‘People use the internet to make money and we have to be careful that we don’t give them our money by mistake. If something pops up on the screen don’t click it. Come and tell me’.
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.