Why internet safety matters
School-age children like going online to look at videos, play games and connect with friends and family. They might also be using the internet for schoolwork and homework. They can do this using computers, mobile phones, tablets, TVs and other internet-connected devices, including toys.
Because school-age children are starting to be independent online and might go online unsupervised, there are more internet safety risks for them than there are for younger children. There are particular risks if your child uses the internet to communicate with others – for example, on social media or within games.
When you take some practical internet safety precautions, you protect your child from potentially harmful 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 others.
Internet safety risks for school-age children
There are four main kinds of internet risks for children.
For school-age children these risks include things that they might find upsetting, disgusting or otherwise uncomfortable, if they come across them accidentally. This might include sexual content in games, pornography, images of cruelty to animals, and real or simulated violence.
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 persuaded to share personal information with strangers, provide contact details after clicking on pop-up messages, or meet in person with someone they’ve met online.
These risks include children acting in ways that might hurt others, or being the victim of this kind of behaviour. For example, a child might destroy a game that a friend or sibling has created. Another conduct risk is accidentally making in-app purchases.
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. Or children might use a toy, app or device with weak internet security, which leaves them open to identity theft or fraud.
Protecting children from internet safety risks: tips
You can use a range of different strategies to help your school-age child stay safe online.
Here are some ideas:
- 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, internet safety rules like not giving out personal information, and programs 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 and KIDOZ, or messaging apps like Messenger Kids.
- Check that games, websites and TV programs are appropriate for your child. You can do this by looking at reviews on Common Sense Media.
- Use 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 and reassure your child if they’re concerned or upset by something they’ve seen online.
- Check privacy settings and location services, use parental controls, and use safe search settings on browsers, apps, search engines and YouTube. Limit camera and video functions so your child doesn’t accidentally take photos of themselves or others.
- If you use TV streaming services, set up profiles for different household members so your child is less likely to come across inappropriate programs.
- Find out how to make complaints about offensive online content.
- Block in-app purchases and disable one-click payment options on your devices.
- Encourage all your children, including older siblings, to help each other use the internet safely and responsibly – for example, by watching only age-appropriate programs.
Trust between you and your child helps keep your child safe online. Calm, open conversations about internet use can help your child feel that you trust them to be responsible online. And if your child feels trusted, they’re more likely to talk with you about what they do online and tell you about online content and contacts that worry them.
It’s best to avoid using surveillance apps that let you secretly monitor your child’s online activity. Using these apps 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.
If you do choose to monitor your child’s internet use while they're online or by reviewing their browser history, it’s good to talk about this with your child.
As your child gets older and more confident and starts using the internet independently, you’ll need to review your strategies. Our article on internet safety for children aged 9-11 years has ideas.
Teaching safe and responsible online behaviour
You can help your child learn how to use the internet safely, responsibly and enjoyably. If you teach your child how to manage internet safety risks and worrying experiences, 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
- talking with your child about online content and listening to their views
- being a good role model
- teaching your child to be careful with personal information
- teaching your child to avoid online purchases
- talking about appropriate online behaviour.
Going online with children
Going online with your child gives you the opportunity to see the apps or games your child plays, or the videos they watch.
You can share your child’s experience while also checking that the content is appropriate. One way to do this is by asking questions that show interest in what your child is doing – for example, ‘That looks like an interesting game. Can you teach me to play too?’
You can also show your child sites that are fun, interesting or educational and show your child how to bookmark them for later. You could help your child find information they need for homework by using the right kind of search words. For example, for information on a school project about how people lived in the past, your child might use a phrase like ‘life in Australia in the 1900s’, rather than ‘past life’.
If you come across pop-up advertisements while you’re online together, it’s a good opportunity to talk with your child about not clicking them. You can explain that pop-up ads can lead to sites with unpleasant pictures or sites that want your personal or financial information.
Talking about online content
It’s a good idea to explain to your child that the internet has all sorts of content and that some of it isn’t for children.
You could explain that there are parental controls, safe browsing settings and internet filters set up on most devices to protect children from inappropriate content. But these are not a guarantee and your child could still come across inappropriate content.
So it’s also a good idea to encourage your child to talk to you or another trusted adult if they see something that worries them. For example, you might say, ‘Sometimes people put horrible things on the internet. Some of it’s made up and some of it’s real. If you see anything that upsets you or makes you feel uncomfortable, let me know’.
If you name things to look out for, it can help your child identify unsuitable material. For example, ‘If you see a site with upsetting, scary or rude pictures, swearing or angry words, let me know. It’s not a good site for you to look at’.
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 they find on the internet helps your child develop the ability to tell whether a website has good-quality information. This is an important part of digital and media literacy.
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. For example, you might keep internet-connected devices out of bedrooms, and use technology for positive purposes like sending supportive messages to friends.
Taking care with privacy and personal information
It’s a good idea to make sure your child knows not to communicate online with people they don’t know in person. This is particularly important if your child is using in-game social networks. For example, gaming sites like Roblox and Minecraft are targeted at children but have messaging features that might allow strangers to communicate with your child.
Encourage your child to:
- tell you if someone they don’t know contacts them online
- not give out personal information. You could say, ‘Some people online are fakers. Never tell anyone online your name, address, phone number or birthday. Never send or post images of yourself’
- check with you before filling out membership forms on gaming sites, online competition entry forms and so on
- ask you before they use a new app, so you can show them how to check the privacy settings to keep their personal information safe.
Avoiding online purchases
You can help stop any accidental in-app purchases by switching off in-app purchases and one-click payments on your devices.
It’s also a good idea for you and your child to agree on clear rules about not accepting in-app purchases. You might say, ‘It’s important that we don’t waste our money on things we don’t need. If you want to buy a new game or something in a game, please ask me’.
Talking about appropriate online behaviour
Talking with your child about appropriate and inappropriate online behaviour will help your child learn how to stay safe. For example, you could:
- tell your child not to do or say anything online that they wouldn’t do or say face to face with someone
- encourage your child to think before posting photos or comments
- help your child to walk away from online arguments. You could say, ‘Friends can say things they don’t mean. It’s good to let people get over their moods and not talk to them online for a little while’.
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.