Why internet safety matters for children at 2-5 years
At 2-5 years, children might 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 young children online, although they 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 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.
As your child gets older and starts to use the internet independently, you’ll need to review risks and strategies for handling them. Our article on internet safety for children aged 6-8 years has tips.
Internet safety risks for children at 2-5 years
There are 2 main kinds of internet safety risks for children aged 2-5 years:
- 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, memberships or terms and 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 children at this age:
- 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.
Practical precautions to protect young children from internet safety risks
These tips use family relationships to keep your child safe and build their safety skills:
- 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, and programs and apps that are OK for your child. You can ask your child what they think should be in the plan.
- Make sure that older siblings watch and use only age-appropriate content when younger siblings are around.
These tips involve choosing child-friendly and age-appropriate technology and content to keep your child safe:
- Use child-friendly search engines like Kiddle or Kidtopia and content providers like ABC Kids, CBeebies, YouTube Kids or KIDOZ.
- Check that games, videos, TV series and apps are appropriate for your child. For example, you can look at reviews on Common Sense Media.
Boundaries and limits
These tips involve using technological restrictions to keep your child safe:
- Set up a folder with bookmarks for your child’s favourite apps, YouTube channels or websites so that they can easily find them. You can set them up on all the devices that your child uses.
- Add a passcode on pay TV and streaming services to ensure your child can’t accidentally watch programs aimed at adults or older children.
- Check privacy settings, use parental controls, block in-app purchases, disable one-click payment options and location services on devices including toys, and limit camera and video functions.
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 going online together, being a role model and helping children understand good and bad content.
Going online with young children
Going online with your child is one of the best ways to help them learn about using the internet safely.
Also, your child will get more out of being online if you’re watching or going online with your child. And going online together is a chance to build your relationship. It shows you care about things that matter to your child.
When you’re online together:
- Get your child to show you apps, videos or other content that they like or find interesting. Ask your child why they like them. Or ask your child to show you how to play their favourite app or game.
- If you think an app or video isn’t appropriate, explain why. Then help your child to find something more appropriate.
- If advertising pops up when you’re online together, explain that advertisements are trying to make you buy something.
- Explain what in-app purchases are and how to handle them. For example, ‘People use the internet to make money, and we have to be careful not to give them our money by mistake. If something pops up on the screen don’t click it. Come and tell me’.
Being a good role model for young children online
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 can send powerful and positive messages about what the internet is for if your child sees you going online to keep in touch with people – for example, by video calling your extended family or playing online board games with friends.
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.
Helping young children learn 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.
You can also 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’.
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.