Keeping your children safe online: A really simple guide for parents

29 November 2022, 12:27

Will Guyatt sets out some practical tips for parents to keep children safe online
Will Guyatt sets out some practical tips for parents to keep children safe online. Picture: Alamy
Will Guyatt, technology correspondent

By Will Guyatt, technology correspondent

Online safety - two words we hear several times a day. Politicians get increasingly fired up by the phrase, while we all pause to listen to tragic stories like that of Molly Russell.

It's such a broad, yet terrifying term that the idea of having to protect your family forces so many of us to stick our heads in the sand.

But parents must confront the reality that their kids will be exposed to this daunting world at some point, and they are likely to need help to navigate it.

I’ve written about online safety for almost twenty years - and it’s getting more important to me. I have a four-year old daughter, who soon will want access to her own device.

With that in mind, here are my picks for the simple steps to consider about keeping the younger people in your life safe online.

Here are the two best pieces of advice I’ve received about keeping young people safe online:

  • Be there with your child - don’t just hand them a device, take an interest in what they are doing, and share those first experiences together, even if that means improving your own digital knowledge. Encourage your children to talk about their experiences - listen to them and offer support. Maybe they will teach you something new.
  • You’ll never get the genie back in the bottle - attempting to encourage a child to embrace parental controls after you’ve given them free reign will almost certainly fail. If you can, set family online rules from day one, and take the time to set up the controls before you give them their device. You’ll thank me later.

In 2022, it’s easier than ever to introduce a variety of safety controls on any online-enabled device you’re handing to a child. You can be the boss - controlling and monitoring their online usage. The level of control depends on your appetite - limiting the time they spend on apps, whether they can play games, blocking certain Internet content, or ensuring they only game with their real-world friends.

Keeping safe online in 2022

Social Media Tips

Regardless of the platform - users of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat need to be 13 years and older, while users need to be 16 for Whatsapp.

It’s hard for the companies to police this without any form of online ID, while a surprising number of parents either don’t understand the age limit, or allow children as young as 8 to have social media accounts.

Each of the social media services make it possible to see who can see your posts, but not all platforms offer the same controls to protect users - which means you’ll need to get to grips with each platform to understand how they will differ.

Painting with a broad brush - I’d recommend making the accounts of young people private and share posts with known friends as default.

The two hottest social media apps for young people offer similar solutions for parents to link their account to that of their child - it’s called Family Pairing in TikTok, and Family Centre in Snapchat - they enable you to easily see who your children are engaging with.

For older children, this might feel like an invasion of their privacy - but that’s another complex part of keeping young people safe online to discuss another day.

Getting a smartphone

If you’re buying a phone for young people, there’s now a great selection of parental controls for both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android - the two major smartphone operating systems - which keep young people safe, and importantly, can stop them from spending all the money on your credit card for in-app purchases.

For those using Android - phones from companies like Motorola, Samsung and Sony - the Google Family Link app is now used by millions of families around the globe - allowing you to monitor and control almost all elements of connected smartphones - enabling you to set app privacy, and whether they are able to download new apps to their devices. Apple iPhone users have access to a really comprehensive list of parental controls with-in Apple’s Family Sharing set-up.

And if you happen to be in a family with both Google and Apple devices - paid-for parental control services like Qustodio are available across all devices, as well as your Windows or Mac computer.

Choosing a tablet

For many a tablet device is their first online experience, and buying a device for the youngest members of your family can start intense debate and disagreement amongst parents.

If you’re looking for a kid friendly tablet device, Amazon’s Fire 7 Kids is streets ahead of all competitors. Out of the box it comes with ah an annual subscription to Amazon Kids+ - which comes with a nicely curated/sensibly vetted list of apps, games, books and videos . Amazon’s own easy-to-use parental dashboard allows you to filter content based on age, educational goals and how long you want to let them use it. You can also grant access to additional content from streaming platforms too.

Both Apple and Android tablets can benefit from the same apps as you can use on a smartphone.

Game on

This Christmas, games consoles like Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Nintendo’s Switch are top of the present list - and should also be treated with the same level of care and concern towards online safety as any other device.

Today, it’s almost as easy to play games online with anyone from anywhere around the world as it is to have someone sat next to you on the sofa. All games consoles have comprehensive parental controls and security option - the best place to go is the website - which has great guides to help you set them up.

There’s a load of great information for parents, carers and other groups on the UK Safer Internet Centre website