Home Family & Relationship An Age-by-Age Guide to Online Safety for Kids

An Age-by-Age Guide to Online Safety for Kids

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The internet is a rapidly changing place where kids are able to play, create, scroll, and interact with people all over the world. And in 2024, the UK will witness the passing of the controversial online safety bill designed to regulate the handling of harmful online content, combat cyberbullying, and address misinformation. A substantial part of the bill is set to emphasise child online safety; however, before the bill passes, there are plenty of effective steps you can take as a parent to protect your children’s online safety. The experts at Fasthosts take a practical approach to online safety according to age group, offering tips and methods to keep your kids safe on the web.

Know your parental controls

Parental controls are designed to manage the time your children spend online, keep track of activity, and filter out inappropriate content. There are different ways you can implement these controls:

  • Internet provider: You can set up filters that block access to potentially harmful and inappropriate content on any device that is connected to your Wi-Fi network.
  • Household devices: Most devices, such as phones and tablets, give you the ability to set up parental controls, allowing you to limit screen time, restrict content types, and block in-app purchases.
  • Mobile operators: Filters can also be set up on mobile contracts for users under 18, which will block any explicit content.
  • Online services: Many online streaming services, such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix, offer a set of parameters where you can set passwords, profile maturity ratings, and manually block certain movies from your child’s profile.
  • Software: There’s plenty of software out there that allows you to monitor your home network and the activity of each device connected to it.
  • VPNs: Using a virtual private network can give your kid an additional layer of privacy when browsing the web. A VPN, powered by a VPS, hides the user’s actual public IP address and “tunnels” traffic between the user’s device and the remote server.

As kids get older, the safety measures in place to keep them safe will change. That’s why it’s important to tackle online safety in a proactive way where a child’s age is taken into account. Below, we have narrowed down the top tips for child online safety from 0 to 18 years old, classified by age range:

Preschooler: 0–4 years

If your preschooler doesn’t have their own device just yet, it’s likely that they’ll borrow their parents’ or siblings’ to watch videos or play games. There are few things you can do to make sure your child is using these devices safely:

  • Keep it kid-friendly: Allow the usage of kid-friendly apps and websites that you have verified beforehand. Do your research before downloading.
  • Supervise: Some video content may not be exactly what it seems. Always try to be in the room or close by when your child is using the internet.
  • Monitor your child’s usage: Monitor your child’s device usage closely, especially if they’re accessing the internet. Better yet, use this time to go online together, where you can guide them and explore the digital world together.
  • Set boundaries: Set boundaries by establishing time limits. Use passwords on devices, apps, and online features to restrict access.
  • Educate: It’s never too early to teach about internet safety, so introduce healthy concepts like asking for permission and putting support in place.

Reception: 4–5 years

Although a lot of the advice given in the previous step is relevant to this age group, when a child steps up to nursery, they may find more opportunities to be independent and be around older age groups.

  • Continue supervision: You will likely want to alter parental controls, potentially allowing this age group to access the internet, especially for school work, with parental controls in place. Make sure to continue close supervision and education about healthy online safety habits.
  • Be available for support: The internet can be fun and exciting, but there can sometimes be scary or upsetting things out there. Encourage your children to put down their device and come to a trusted adult if they see or hear anything they aren’t comfortable with.

Primary school: 5–11 years

As kids start becoming more independent, their usage of devices and the internet will increase. Their online usage may change, increasing communication with friends and peers and entering the world of social media and video sharing platforms.

  • Supervision: Kids at this age will be wishing for more independence, but it’s still important to monitor their activity.
  • Safe browsing: It’s also important to start explaining the basics of safe browsing so that they know the risks to look out for.
  • Online etiquette: Teach them about being kind and respectful to others online and to never share any personal information that could allude to their identity or location.
  • Parental controls: Although some parental functions could start to be reduced, it’s a good idea to keep reviewing the current controls with open and honest discussions.

Secondary school: 11–16 years

The rise to secondary school is an important milestone in a child’s journey. It marks moving up to the adolescent stage, where they will be spending a significant amount of time online and interacting with peers.

  • Privacy settings: Encourage kids to be mindful about what they share and post online. Encourage privacy settings on social media platforms and other accounts.
  • Cyberbullying: Keep an eye out for signs of cyberbullying. Educate your child on the dangers to look out for and the potential effects it can have on themselves and others. Reiterate that they never have to give in to pressure or other forms of online abuse. You should also become familiar with the signs that your child might be being bullied, such as becoming withdrawn, hiding their devices from your view, or giving up on favourite games.
  • Encourage communication: Create a safe space for open communication, let them know that if they ever come into contact with cyberbullying or become a victim of it themselves, to inform an adult.
  • Dangers of the internet: Encourage them to question the safety and credibility of the information and content they encounter online. Whether that be watching videos or friend requests from strangers, help them recognise the signs of legitimate websites as opposed to fake/misleading websites.

Sixth form or college: 16–18 years

At this age, the internet is part of their daily lives. Kids – or rather young adults – in this group will adapt quickly to new technology, and use it to communicate, create and post content, and socialise with their peers.

  • Online reputation: Strengthen their understanding of the value of their online reputation and how their online decisions now may affect them in the future.
  • Keeping information private: Discuss the importance of critical thinking before they post, remaining mindful, and keeping their personal information private.
  • Responsibility: Encourage independence and responsibility while ensuring that they understand that you are there for help and support. Continue to have regular check-ins with them about their online experiences.
  • Healthy habits: Promote healthy habits when it comes to the internet, teaching the importance of balancing both online and offline activities.

Additional tips and info

  • Stranger danger: Always remind your children of stranger danger and to never accept a friend or message request from someone they don’t know; it simply isn’t worth the risk.
  • Cybersecurity: Teach them the importance of creating strong and hard-to-guess passwords to keep their accounts secure.
  • Lead by example: Be a good role model for internet use. Show them how to be responsible online and demonstrate positive behaviour to follow. This is especially important when it comes to social media usage – if you are “friends” with your child – and when it comes to a healthy level of screen time.

Internet safety is an ongoing conversation; remember to regularly revisit these principles and reinforce them to keep your children safe online while they navigate the ever-changing digital world.

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