Adjusting to our new normal in lockdown has meant a huge shift in our usual online routines. With kids’ education existing almost entirely online, and in-person playdates replaced by virtual ones, families are now spending the majority of their time on devices. Busy parents are finding it increasingly difficult to monitor their kids’ activity online, especially when juggling work of their own. With kids on tech so much during lockdown, online safety is more important now than ever before. We spoke to Kate Jones of ChildNet International to learn the best ways to keep kids safe online.

Top 5 Tips to Stay Safe Online

  1. Start a Conversation
    Talk regularly with your kids about how they use technology. Listening to your kids will give you the best idea on how to support them. Check out conversation starters here.
  2. Celebrate Diversity
    Acknowledge the different types of identities your kids may see online, and use these to spark discussions around diversity and inclusivity.
  3. Make the Internet Work for Your Family
    Knowing how to activate and use parental controls can help protect your kids from seeing inappropriate content online. Check out this guide to get advice on how to make use of parental controls.
  4. Get Involved
    Spend some time with your kids looking at, or interacting with, the things they do online. Talk about both the positives and negatives of being online, and empower your kids with safe choices they can choose, rather than overwhelming them with restrictions.
  5. Seek Help and Support
    Just as we tell young people to talk about what they are unsure of, make sure you do too! You don’t need to know all the answers straight away, but reassure your kids that you can figure it out together. You can also connect with other parents who are trying to make the internet work for their family too.

Talking to Your Kids About Online Safety

Sometimes it’s tough to know where to start, but many young people do actually want to connect and share that element of their lives with parents. Try to open up the discussion naturally. Conversation-starters can stem from chatting about what agreement you can make as a family around internet usage. During this unprecedented time, kids are going to be online a lot more, so it’s important to be flexible and understanding. Remember too that whatever agreement you make, it needs to be followed by both grown-ups and kids. So if you agree to put away phones at meal times, for example, that counts for everyone in the household.

Online Lives and Secrecy 

Some parents may be worried their kids aren’t sharing the whole story of their online lives. This can be of particular concern for parents of older kids, who may have social media profiles. The important thing is for parents to come from a starting point of trust and listening. Kids will stop sharing if they are worried the parent will take away a device. Oftentimes young people are more scared of losing a device than dealing with what they are tackling in their online lives. 

Kids need to know that parents will listen if they come to them about something going wrong, rather than reacting with anger. It’s crucial to start with the positives and remain open to hearing how young people use the internet differently than their parents. Regular conversations are necessary so that kids feel trusted, acknowledged, and willing to share. 

Understanding the Risks Without Fear 

Given that more kids are online now than ever before, it’s important that they understand the risks without becoming too scared or hampered by fear. Instead of scare-mongering and setting forbidden rules, parents should open up conversations with kids by asking them what they think the consequences might be. If kids feel included in the decision-making process, they’ll feel more confident and able to tackle potentially risky situations. 

Parents are life experts, even if they may not be online experts. It’s important to ask, listen, and reflect. Encourage your kids to use their instincts to detect whether a particular interaction online might be inappropriate, and instil good judgement rather than fear.  

Socialising Online

The pandemic has certainly caused a big increase in the hours kids spend interacting with their friends online. Research that Azoomee recently conducted with over 2,000 parents (available here and here) revealed that while 82% of parents know what their kids are watching online or have controls in place, 58% say that their kids are either spending time on platforms like Tik Tok or YouTube, or chatting on social media channels or on video with friends. With tech use more prevalent, many kids are using apps they never have before to stay connected with their peers. Video chat apps like Zoom and House Party have become far more popular with young people, and with that comes new risks around privacy. ChildNet International offers guidelines to create a more private experience and be safer when using these social apps. Parents should also find out more about the safety features available on popular social networks like Instagram and Facebook. It’s a good idea to talk through best practices with your kids so they head into online social situations with awareness and security. 

Extra Measures to Take 

It’s important during this time for parents to check in with their kids and be aware of how their children are feeling when they come off a device. Connect with kids and get their input. Parents should also make use of the settings on the devices they have, and look at what their internet provider gives them in terms of safety tools. This could be a time of firsts for many kids – creating their first email address or their first video call. Understandably, some parents may feel concerned about their kids being online all day, but adding extra worry to a fraught situation won’t help. The hours kids are spending on devices may be far less important than making sure we stay productive, positive, healthy and safe. This won’t last forever, so parents can take the pressure off themselves to be perfect moderators of kids’ screen time. 

A Positive Future 

To a certain extent, this shared lockdown experience has helped us realise we can accomplish things in a variety of ways and that technology can be there to help us stay connected with each other. Necessity is the mother of adaptability, and the pandemic has seen our world adjust to a new normal, together. It’s good to focus on the positive outcomes, like more regular communication between parents and kids about their online lives. 

If young people feel they are able to share their challenges and problems, then parents are in a position to be able to take appropriate responses. Kids who are confident and comfortable to seek help from adults will get their issues handled more quickly. This will help to combat online bullying, grooming and sexual harassment. Potentially, being online more may result in a better support system for kids. Even if parents just offer reassurance and empathy, young people will stand to gain much more out of their online experiences.

Want more online safety advice? 

Azoomee’s BAFTA-nominated original series “Search it Up” follows siblings Jack and Maya and their grandmother as they navigate life online and explore challenges that crop up in their everyday experiences. These 2-minute episodes are an engaging, fun way to teach kids about internet safety. Plus, they make awesome conversation-starters to get your kids talking and thinking about online safety. 

Azoomee offers a totally safe digital space for kids to explore, but we know that kids will be online in other arenas too. We hope we can all work together to create a safer internet for all, especially during this unsettling time.  

Kate Jones is the Deputy CEO of Childnet International, a non-profit organisation that works to make the internet a great and safe place for children. 

Estelle Lloyd is the COO of Azoomee, a safe streaming platform for kids offering action-packed games and inspiring videos that foster wonder, imagination and curiosity.