The internet and all it can offer, is a wonderful tool for keeping in touch with friends and family, however parents and carers need to be aware that it is possible for people who are unknown to children and young people to communicate with them via the internet.
Here are some things to consider if your child has access to a mobile, tablet, laptop or games console.
Buying a mobile phone for a child or giving them your old mobile?
Most mobile phone providers offer free parental control services which limit the content children can access via the mobile network to items suitable for under 18s. However, they may not always be automatically switched on. Check with your service provider that the parental control settings are switched on, and ask for them to be switched on if they are not. This is particularly important if the phone was used by an adult before.
You should set up parental control on all the devices that your child uses. This includes those devices that belong to other family members when your child uses them. Setting parental controls will help to keep your child safe while they are online by:
Blocking inappropriate content
Limiting in-app purchases
Managing which apps children are allowed to download.
You can set up parental controls on individual devices and on your home WiFi. Most service providers will offer free parental control services and will help you to activate this if you contact them.
You should also activate the privacy settings on each app that your child uses, as well as ensuring that location sharing is ‘off’ on their device.
These are some of the most popular social networks your child uses
Facebook is currently the largest social networking site in the world with over 2 billion active users. It allows users to connect and share with their family and friends online. Users create their own profile page which they can regularly update.
Facebook Messenger allows users to chat either one to one or in groups.
Facebook safety centre - for instructions on applying security settings.
Snapchat is the fastest growing social media app with users sharing photos, videos, and text. The ‘snap’ is on screen for up to 10 seconds before disappearing, or there is an option to have no time limit. There’s also a feature called Snapchat Story that lets you share snaps in a sequence for up to 24 hours.
Snapchat safety centre - for instructions on applying security settings.
Instagram is a free photo and video sharing app available on Apple iOS, Android and Windows Phone. People can upload photos or videos to our service and share them with their followers or with a select group of friends. As with all the apps above, users can view, comment and like posts shared by their friends.
Instagram safety centre - for instructions on applying security settings.
TikTok is a free app for making and sharing short videos. The videos are tall, not square, like on Snapchat or Instagram’s stories, but you navigate through videos by scrolling up and down, like a feed, not by tapping or swiping side to side.
TikTok safety centre - for instructions on applying security settings
Step by step instructions for controls and settings.
YouTube is a free video sharing website that makes it easy to watch online videos. Users can also create and upload their own videos to share with others. Every minute of every day, more than 35 hours of video is uploaded.
YouTube safety centre - for instructions on applying security settings.
If you're thinking about buying your child a games console, but are unsure how to keep your child safe online, Xbox and Playstation have both created apps for parents and carers that will give you peace of mind. The apps give you access to everything your child is doing online and who they are talking to.
Both of these apps are available from your app store on both Android and Apple mobiles.
The Xbox Family Settings app lets the organisers (adults) in a family group manage their kids’ gaming activities from their iOS and Android phones. The app enables you to feel secure about your child playing online.
The Xbox app allows you to:
- Receive messages sent to your child
- Listen in on conversations they are having
- Add or delete friend requests
- Set child restrictions\
- X Box Family & online safety
- Report to Xbox
The PlayStation app allows you to:
- Set age restrictions
- Manage how long your child plays each day
- Receive messages sent to your child
- Set multiple layers of passcode protection
- Play Station Family & online safety
- Report to PlayStation
Is my child gambling?
Many online games now include additional elements, which can make them seem more exciting to young people and offer them the chance to win extra prizes and get further along in the game. These features include:
loot boxes - virtual treasure chests containing undisclosed items that can be used to progress within a game or improve status
microtransactions - additional content or services within an app or online game which has to be paid for with virtual or real money
skins - customisable characters
roulette or spin the wheel features.
Although not legally classed as gambling, some countries have outlawed the use of “loot boxes” in games because they are seen as gambling actions and are often aimed at children. Young people can get used to these types of features and potentially, as they get older, be drawn to casino-style activities as they have experienced that win-chasing risk element through gaming.
There have been cases where children have run up large debts on their parents’ credit cards as they didn’t realise that they were spending real money, so it’s a good idea to set-up parental controls to limit access to any credit cards associated with online game accounts. Also talk to your child about the games they are playing and help them think through any decisions about things like microtransactions to help them weigh up the real cost of their quest to get the prize or level that they want.
If you have concerns, want to find out more about some of the terms used in gaming, or get advice about gaming and gambling, visit the YGAM Parent Hub or download the fact sheet on Gamcare's Big Deal website.
Buying games for your child
When purchasing a game for your child, always check the PEGI certification. The PEGI system is designed to inform you of what’s suitable and what’s not for different ages.
All games released in the UK will have PEGI ratings on the packaging; 3,7,12,16 or 18 meaning that games rated as such should not be played by persons below those respective age bars. Next to the age rating there are also pictograms to explain why the rating was awarded.
Many of the popular games have 18 PEGI ratings. Content within these games could potentially be harmful, frightening or worrying for young children.
You may want to consider introducing boundaries at home about what type of games your child is allowed to play. They will also need to be communicated to family members and child care.
Encourage your child to talk to you about the games they play and how they feel after playing them. Children are sometimes frightened by games but won’t tell anyone in case they take the game away. Whilst children are still learning to distinguish between reality and fantasy, it’s important to talk to them about what they see in gaming.
If your children are playing games online don’t forget that you can also set parental controls on many devices to give you extra piece of mind. Again, the VSC website offers full instructions on how to set parental controls for the most popular devices.
If you’re worried about children playing video games on their own, then why not join them? AskAboutGames.com is a fantastic resource for advice on gaming as a family.
Talking to your child about staying safe online
Parental controls and security settings are not 100% accurate and are no substitute for open and honest conversations with your child. It's important to explain, especially to younger children, what is meant by ‘inappropriate,’ by using language they will understand. Make sure they know that if something they see online upsets them or makes them worried, then they should always come to you.
Regularly have open and honest conversations about:
What they are doing online and who they are talking to.
Remind them of the importance of not talking to or accepting friend requests from people they don’t know in real life.
Encourage them to keep all personal information such as passwords, phone numbers, friend, school address details private.
Remind them that people might not be who they say they are online. It is very easy for people to set up accounts, with fake names, identities and photos, to make us all believe that they are someone they are not.
Warn them that the things they write and the photos they post online might be accessed by people other than their friends, if they don’t keep their accounts private.
Highlight the risks of meeting people in person that your child only knows online. Meeting people in real life, that children and young people only know from being online, can pose many risks and children and young people should be encouraged to be open and honest with you or a trusted adult, if someone is asking to meet up with them in real life. (This can be very dangerous and children and young people should be encouraged to tell their parents or an adult they trust, if someone is asking to meet them.)
How to report an online concern
If something has happened to your child online you can make a report to the National Crime Agency for Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP). CEOP helps keep children and young people safe from sexual abuse and grooming online, as well as their parents and carers.
You should always report if your child is or has been in contact with someone who is:
Chatting online to your child about sex
Asking them to do sexual things on webcam
Asking to meet up if they’ve only met them online
Requesting sexual pictures
Forcing them into sexual activity
Making them feel unsafe
For information and guidance for parents of children and young people who have got in trouble online see the Parents Protect website.