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Online safety

The internet, social media, video chat and online games are great ways for children to stay in touch with their friends and have fun. There’s no doubting how useful the internet is in helping families during the coronavirus outbreak, but it’s also really important that parents and carers know how to keep their families safe, happy and resilient online.

Tips for keeping your children safe online

Tip #1: Show an interest

There’s no better way to protect your children than by talking to them about what they do online, how they are connecting with others and if they know how to stay safe. They will already be learning about online safety and behaviour at school so why not start by asking them what they already know and what their favourite websites are? Adults need to know where young people are going online, just as they do if they’re going to a physical space. It’s important to stay connected and talk to your child about how they are using social media – keep talking to them and listening so they know you take it seriously.

Why not spend some time with them online, playing games, or watching them play? Or ask them to show you how something they use works, like Tik Tok or Snapchat? If you chat regularly to them about their online activity it’ll be easier to spot a change in their behaviour (for example, becoming upset, quiet, grumpy, secretive or anxious) which could mean they’re distressed. 

For more tips about starting a conversation, the NSPCC has great advice. You could also look at YoungScot’s advice with your child to help start the conversation.

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Tip #2: Let them know you’re there for them

Let your child know that they can always speak to you or another trusted family member or adult if they are feel uncomfortable or are distressed or worried by something they’ve seen online. Reassure them that they can talk to you, and make sure they know that you would never blame them for anything that might happen online.

You can also let them know that if they would prefer to speak to someone anonymously, they can call Childline Scotland on 0800 1111.

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Tip #3: Don’t over share

Talk to them about sharing photos and information online, and how these can be changed or misused by other people. Before you upload any pictures of your child, ask for their permission. If in doubt, don’t upload!

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Tip #4: Check your settings

Make sure privacy and location settings are in order on all the devices your child uses, and that you have parental controls in place. There are a range of parental controls you can use to help protect children from accessing inappropriate content online. There’s more advice on the different kinds of controls available at the UK Safer Internet Centre, ThinkUKnow and the NSPCC website. You can also download a helpsheet from the National Parent Forum of Scotland here.

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Tip #5: Find new ways of dealing with behaviour

If your children are acting up or breaking the rules, it’s tempting to take away tablets or phones as a punishment. However, especially at the moment, this can make them feel anxious and cut off from their friends. Instead, try to talk to them about their behaviour. There are lots of tips on our pages on coping with being a parent and parenting a teen to help with this.

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Keeping older children safe online

You may feel that your teenager knows more about the internet than you do – but just because they seem tech-savvy, doesn’t mean they know how to stay safe. So it’s important to talk openly to them about online risks as they grow up. Ask your child what sites they like to visit and what they enjoy doing online. Maybe there are some sites, apps or other online activities you could enjoy together as a family. 

Is online gaming okay?

Online gaming may seem like a fairly harmless – if time consuming! – hobby, but it does have some risks, including bullying, scams and the danger of meeting people online who may not be who they say they are. To help your child avoid these pitfalls, talk to them regularly about the games they’re playing, and check that they are appropriate for your child’s age. You can find out more at the NSPCC website and the UK Safer Internet Centre.

What is online bullying?

These days, bullying doesn’t just occur at school or in the playground, it can also take place online, and can be extremely distressing. It’s important to talk to your children about online bullying, so they know it’s not acceptable and that they can come to you if anything upsets them. You can find help and advice for supporting your child if they are experiencing online bullying at the respectme website. respectme also have a useful information sheet on online bullying that you can download here.

Should I be worried about my child sharing intimate images online?

Sharing intimate images online happens when someone sends a sexual message, a naked or semi-naked image, or a sexual video to someone else. There are various reasons why young people (and adults!) do this. It may be because they feel confident about their bodies, or because they trust the person they’re sending it to. Or it may be because of peer pressure or bullying. Either way, once an image has been sent, the sender loses control over it, and it may end up being seen by many more people than they intended, or even used to blackmail them.

Therefore it’s a good idea to talk to your child about this to make sure they understand the risks and law around this – especially at the moment, when young people are still having to keep 2 metres apart and may be prepared to take more risks than they usually would. The NSPCC website has more information on sharing intimate images, and advice on how to tackle the subject with your children. The website also has more information on what to do if intimate images are shared without consent.

What about online porn?

Young people are naturally curious about sex, and this can lead to them accessing online porn. They may have questions they don’t want to ask anyone else, or stumble across pornographic content by accident. However, online porn can give people unrealistic ideas about sex, consent, relationships and body image, so it’s important to be open and honest with your child about sex and relationships, to help them understand this.

We know these conversations can be difficult, but there are lots of resources to support you and  give you confidence to speak to your children about sexual content online, including the NSPCC website.


Should I be concerned about online gambling?

Gambling is often normalised and seen as harmless, but it can become a problem. Talking to your children about gambling can help prevent it becoming a problem. The Gambling Education Hub has a useful leaflet with advice for parents and carers about this, which you can download here.


How is coronavirus changing how young people interact digitally?

Young Scot have a useful page on how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting how we use technology, which includes advice on spotting scams and fake news, and suggested ways of connecting with friends and family online.

How to make the best use of tech

Right now, using devices to stay in touch with family and friends is very important. The Internet Matters website provides further advice on getting the best out of your tech, including using video chat, finding apps to help you stay active indoors and using tech to support your wellbeing. The ThinkUKnow and National Parent Forum Scotland websites also has helpful information on how to stay safe online.

For positive tips, stories and information to help children and young people use their screen time positively, ask your kids to take a look at Mind Yer Time, which was designed by children and young people from the Children's Parliament and the Scottish Youth Parliament.

How to report inappropriate online content

Discovering distressing online content or facing online abuse can be very upsetting, and you might be tempted to delete messages, images or social media accounts and hope it all goes away. But if you report it, you’ll be showing your child how they can empower themselves against online bullies and people who upload offensive content. You may also be helping someone else avoid the same horrible experience.

  • If you’re worried about online abuse or the way someone is communicating with your child online, you can report it through the National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) command. Children can also report inappropriate content themselves.
  • You can report distressing online content to the Report Harmful Content website, including threats, bullying, suicide or self-harm content, violent content and porn.
  • You can also report distressing content seen on social media directly to the platform you saw it on. Go to the platform’s help section to find out what to do.
  • You should report child sexual abuse content to the Internet Watch Foundation.