child online safety

Talking online safety with your child

You know that it's important to talk to your children about using the internet safely – but how can you do this? Psychologist Dr John Coleman explains

You often read that it’s good to talk to your child about online safety, but what does that mean? How do you talk to a child who seems to know more than you do – and who probably doesn’t want to talk to you?

It’s important to remember that any conversation has to be appropriate for your child’s age. You need to adapt your strategy as they grow older and become more independent.

Younger children need more structure and guidance as to what is safe. But with older children – say between the last year or two of primary school and Year 9 in secondary school – things can become more complicated. There are big differences between individuals at this time, with some maturing faster than others. Some will take more risks than others, so it is important to be alert to what your child does online.

As your child moves into adolescence, the degree and type of monitoring will have to evolve again as there will come a point when they can find a way around any restrictions you impose. At this stage, negotiations and shared decision-making become more effective than rigid rules. Keeping your child safe is much more about the relationship you have than using technology to put on blocks and filters.

It’s also worth remembering that your digital use is a model for your child’s. If you check for emails or social media posts all the time, your child is likely to do the same. It’s also a good idea to ensure that your family has a time when screens are not in use. The more parents do things with their child that don’t involve the digital world, the easier it will be to communicate with them about their life online.

Three main rules to keep in mind when talking to your child about online safety:

  1. Listening is as important as talking
    Many adults believe that communication involves telling the child something, or seeking information. However, it should be a two-way street. If you let your child know that you really want to hear what they have to say, you’ll be surprised by how much they will tell you.
  2. Actions can speak louder than words
    This has to do with wider aspects of communication, not just words. The better the example you set and the more you let your child know that you value them and will support them, the better communication will be.
  3. Communication should be about positive things, not just about the things that have gone wrong
    Focus as much on the good things that are happening as on nagging about the bad. It will make it easier to keep in touch with what’s really happening to your child when they go online.

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