Online Safety Advice for Parents

Advice for parents on how to keep their children safe online

It is now virtually impossible to be a parent of a child who is not an active participant in the online world.  Yet, this prospect can be an incredibly daunting one for many parents.  Parents are aware of the wonderful learning benefits of engaging children in an online world (online research and educational games to name but two), however, they are also increasingly aware of some of the more dangerous content and sites on the Internet that can be upsetting for their child.  This page intends to give some advice on how to manage this challenging situation as well as provide you with plenty of links to where you can get further advice.

Social Networks

Lots of children and adults enjoy using a variety of social networks to keep in touch with their friends and family, including those who have moved elsewhere on the planet.  Social networks can be absolutely fantastic for keeping in touch with people you don’t get to see very often but are you making sure that you are leaving a positive digital footprint when you use them?

  1. Privacy settings – lots of adults use social networks but many of them do not always use the privacy settings that they offer people for protection.  On most social networks, the default setting is such that anyone who uses the same social network (or sometimes even those who don’t) can see everything that you put online.  This includes the pictures that you post, the comments that you write and the way you respond to other people’s comments.  Most of the times this might be absolutely fine.  However, if you are tagged in something that you would rather not be tagged in or if you post something you later regret posting, then everyone is able to see this and comment on it.  In extreme cases, this could affect future career prospects.  Make sure you investigate how to ensure that your settings are private and that only your friends can see the things that you post.  Every social network’s settings are slightly different so have a look on their help pages if you are struggling to find what you need to.
  2. Keeping personal information private – a lot of this can be managed by ensuring that your privacy settings are set to only show information to friends.  However, think about what you share with people online and how much of this you need to share.  Is it necessary to share your phone number, date of birth or email address on your profile?  Wouldn’t your close friends already have these things?  By posting this information online and allowing other people to see them, you run the risk that someone could use some of this information for the purposes of obtaining credit in your name.  Although this may seem extreme, every piece of information such as this can be gathered by unscrupulous individuals who wish to make some ‘easy money’ and leave you to foot the bill.
  3. The Digital Footprint that you leave behind should be a positive one – if the term ‘Digital Footprint’ is not one you have heard before, it simply means the information you leave behind on the Internet.  This might mean the pictures that you post online, the comments that you make on other people’s pictures or blogs or simply be your own business’ website.  Most of the time, if you have set your privacy setting correctly, this should not affect you.  However, if this isn’t the case, anything that you put online is then out of your control.  For example, if in the heat of the moment you make a comment on somebody’s profile that you later regret, you can remove the comment and feel that this is the end of the issue. However, if someone decided to screen shot that comment or copy and paste it, then the comment hasn’t truly been deleted.  The rule of thumb that we give children at The Discovery School is that when they post something online they should think ‘would my parents be happy if they knew I was posting this?’  If as adults we apply the same rule, we can generally make sure that our Digital Footprint is a positive one.
  4. Google your own name with some key words – if you are unsure what your Digital Footprint is like, it can be a good idea to Google your own name with a few other key words, such as the town that you live in and see what comes up.  Sometimes you might find an old profile from a social network you had forgotten you were even a member of.  If it a website that you no longer use, is it worth keeping your information on it?  Go back to that social network and see how you can close your account and reduce your Digital Footprint.


Passwords are perhaps the most important way that we protect our identity and private information online but how safe do you make them?

  1. Passwords should be like your toothbrush, you never share them with anyone else and change them regularly – everyone has had the situation where they have forgotten the password that they use to access a website at some point.  The danger is that we rectify this by using the same password for every different website that we use or make them really easy to remember.  The first question you should ask is do you want your password to your favourite social network site to be the same as your online banking password?  What if someone knows your social network password or manages to hack your account? They could now also have your online banking password and be one step closer to accessing your financial details.  It is important, therefore, to make sure you use different passwords for your online banking, email and other sites that you access online.  Also, as the news frequently reminds us, banks and other websites are frequently the victims of online hacking scandals and, therefore, it is equally important to change your password frequently to guard against this your details been accessed by these people.
  2. Make your passwords difficult to guess – parents can be particularly guilty of making their passwords surprisingly easy to guess.  What can seem secure to them (their child’s name, abbreviation of their children’s initials or dates of birth) is routine fodder for an experienced hacker.  They can gather most of the information they need from social network sites (if your settings are not private) and use this to create common combinations of passwords.  A good tip for making your passwords more secure is to use something you are interested in but abbreviate this heavily and mix it up with capital and lowercase letters and unrelated numbers.  For example, Betty99 can be quite easy for a hacker to guess but fTbA33 (an abbreviation of football and the number 33) is much more challenging to guess.
  3. If you use filtering software to protect your children from online content, make sure you use a completely different password to secure this to any other one that you use and your children might have access to – children often know a few of their parents’ passwords, as they may use them to access their parents’ phones or to unlock the computer at home.  If you use a similar password for your filtering software, you may leave the software useless as your children may be able to guess the password to by-pass it.

Cookies and Tracking Data

Have you ever wondered why you get adverts on your social networking site or another website for products that you have just viewed online?  Have you always put this down to a strange coincidence?  Unfortunately, this just isn’t true.  When you visit a website, your computer or device will usually download a small file called a cookie.  This file enables you to load the website more quickly the next time you visit it or allow other websites to see where you have visited previously.  Most website have a ‘view how this website uses cookies’ agreement when you first visit them.  Some websites will close automatically if you fail to agree to their use of cookies.  This means it has become rather difficult to avoid these little files on your computer and, in some cases, you may not wish to avoid them anyway.  However, it is a really good idea to frequently delete your browsing history and clear the cookies on your computer.  Not only will it marginally increase the space on your computer’s memory, but it will also stop website being able to bombard you with adverts for products you have recently viewed.

Pop-ups and Junk Mail

Most people who have used the Internet for a long time will be all too familiar with web page that suddenly pop-up out of nowhere.  They will also probably have received a multitude of junk mail in their inbox.  Below are some simple tips to consider when you have issues like these.

  1. Pop-ups – these tend to not be regarded as such as issue as they were in the past as many web-browsers now have the capacity to block them without you even knowing that they have protected you from them. However, a few can still get through and clicking on them can be something that you will live to regret.  Many of these pop-ups contain pictures and images that are designed to entice you to click on them.  For example, they may tell you that you have won a prize.  However, when you click on them, they might actually redirect you to a site you didn’t want to visit or may even download a virus to your system.  The rule of thumb we tell the children at The Discovery School is ‘if you didn’t enter a competition, how can you have won a prize?”  Equally, if the link looks too good to be true, it probably is.  Always navigate to website you want to visit directly, don’t follow the pop-ups.
  2. Junk mail – anyone who has had an email account will have encountered junk mail in some form or another.  It might simply be an advert that you didn’t want or, in many cases, it might be something more sinister.  Sometimes the email can even appear to be from a friend or company but they have used an unusual title line or a generic one that could apply to anyone.  This type of junk mail is usually sent to do only one thing – steal as much information from your computer as possible.  They may contain a link to another website or have a document attached to them (they may even be what appears to be a relatively harmless Word Document).  However, embedded into the macros on the document or via the link can be a harmful virus that is put there with the express purpose of stealing as much of your information as possible.  This information can then be used to access your bank accounts or set up credit in your name.  The junk mail is always made to seem inviting.  One of the latest scams is to send you an email from a registered company – an address that they have hacked – and send you a ‘receipt’ for a transaction you supposedly made in the form of a Word document.  When you open the document and allow the macros to run, you then allow a virus to enter your computer.  Always make sure that you only open attachments from someone you know or from companies that were supposed to be sending you documents online.  If you are unsure about whether an email is genuine or not, search the title of the email online.  Often this will quickly show you if there is a scam going on related to the name of this email.  Also, always view attachments in your email’s ‘view online’ option first (if they have one).  This way, you can view the content of the document before choosing whether it is appropriate to download to your device.

Anti-Virus and Security Software

If you look on online forums, Anti-Virus and Security Software can often be a hotly debated topic.  Some people argue that they are too intrusive and slow their computers down too much, other people argue that they are an essential.   Some people argue that Apple Mac computers do not need the same level of security as PCs, due to the fact that they function in a different way to PCs and, currently, have fewer viruses designed to target them.  Undertaking your own research into Anti-Virus and Security Software is something everybody should do before deciding to install it or not.  However, do bear in mind that many online banks insist on you using some form of it in their terms and conditions, if you use their online facilities.

Online Banking and Scams

In today’s busy modern world, online banking can save a huge amount of time and effort and make transactions much easier to keep a close eye on.  However, it is important to guard your online banking details against attacks.

  1. Never give out your bank details to anyone online or over the phone unless you are buying something from a trusted business – a common scam is for someone claiming to be from your bank or building society to email you or ring you and request your banking details to sort out some kind of error on your account.  Most banks will tell you that they never do this and that this is most likely to be someone trying to steal your bank account details so they can steal your money.
  2. Before paying for anything online, always check a website’s reputation with a simple online search – some websites can be very cleverly designed to look like websites of genuine products that you can buy in the shops but, in fact, offer sub-standard copies of the same product or, even worse, don’t provide you with the product at all.  Before shopping anywhere new online, it is always a good idea to check out reviews of a website before you purchase from it to see how highly other people rated the product or service that they received from them.

Disposing of Old Computing Technology

When upgrading to a new phone or computer it can be so exciting that we forget about the product we have just decided to dispose of.  This can be a dangerous mistake.  The product that you are getting rid of you may have used to look at online banking details or may contain files that are private to you.  Before disposing of any technology, always ensure that you complete a factory reset and ensure you dispose of it with a company that has a reputable standard for disposing of these kinds of products.

We hope that you have found the information in this guide of use. For further information on how to keep yourself safe online, visit the websites below.

Excellent tips on how to keep safe online as adults from ‘Get Safe Online

Great online safety advice from Google 

Be aware of how your child engages with the online world.

Many parents have Internet service providers (ISPs) who offer free parental controls for their computers and many other parents pay extra for these parental controls.  However, increasingly, children are not using the traditional ‘home computer’ to access the Internet but are able to engage with the online world through a whole host of other means, including tablets, Smart TVs, games consoles and, most commonly of all, their mobile phone.  Many of these may be covered by the same parental controls at home on the Wi-Fi  (if the adult sets them up on the Wi-Fi for their child).  However, many of these devices also have mobile Internet access, which means that, as soon as they are taken away from the home Wi-Fi, they might have access to a much broader range of inappropriate material that they would at home.  Being aware of how your child accesses the Internet is directly correlated to your ability to keep them safe on it.  Make sure you are aware of their online habits and provide them with the tools to keep themselves safe.  Many tablet and mobile phone devices contain parental control options and (if set up by a parent prior to give the device to the child) these may provide some further protection in the online world.  However, whether this is always the solution to the problem is discussed below.

Is blocking or filtering always the answer?  

Whilst there is a lot to be said for blocking and filtering content (and we at The Discovery School have Kent’s filtering system in place), there is an argument that this is not always the answer (or perhaps more correctly put, not the only answer).  Unfortunately, no filtering system is 100% safe, accurate or up-to-date.  This means that a simple keyword search or image can return content that is potentially harmful or distressing for your child.  Whilst filtering does protect your child from a lot of content, it does not teach them what to do if they stumble across something inappropriate online (please see ‘Make sure your child knows what to do if they do come across inappropriate content or something that makes them feel uncomfortable’ below).  Therefore, it is not always the best solution.  Teaching your child what to do when they come across inappropriate content is arguable more important than protecting them from seeing it.  Unfortunately, as we all know, it is so easy to stumble across inappropriate content online and, therefore, children need to know what to do if they find something upsetting.  Having this kind of conversation, can give them the skills that they will need to protect themselves for the rest of their lives – long after them have left the ‘safe’ filtered world of your home.

Also, as discussed earlier, filtering only works on certain devices or Wi-Fi if it is set up to do so.  Another issue with this is the fact that we, as adults, tend to choose the same passwords and passcodes for multiple devices.  Our passwords often also tend to be based on key dates to do with our children or even include their names.  Many children know their parent’s passwords and passcodes and, therefore, this can make it incredibly easy for them to ‘hack’ their way through the filtering system.  It is vital, therefore, that if you choose to filter content that the password or passcode to access this content is completely unrelated to any that your child might easily be able to guess or have access to.

Talk to your child about their online habits. 

One of the main causes of distress for children online is the fear that if they find something inappropriate or do something wrong online that their access to the Internet will be taken away.  As discussed above, this most commonly means their tablet or mobile phone will be removed from them and anyone who has children, or works with them, will know that, in the modern world, this is one of the things they fear the most.  This fear leads them to not speak to an adult about the inappropriate things that they have found because of the fear of the device being removed.  However, if you spend time discussing what they are doing online and the kinds of websites and games they are engaging in, your child will be much more open to discussing the things that have been going well as well as anything that has gone wrong, as they don’t have such a fear of their prized possession being taken away from them.

Be aware if your child is engaging in social networking and decide what is appropriate for your child.  

There are a huge number of misconceptions surrounding social networks and the laws that govern them.  Parents will often mention that it is illegal for children to be on Facebook under the age of thirteen, yet happily allow their children to use YouTube from a much younger age.  In fact, the same law governs YouTube as governs Facebook.  This means that to sign up for a YouTube account children have to be thirteen, just the same as Facebook.  This is not due to a safety issue with either site but is in fact due to US laws that govern advertising to children under this age.  This means that it is illegal for Facebook or Youtube to knowingly allow users under this age to use their website.  It does not mean that children under this age are breaking the law by signing up to these websites, it means that the websites are breaking the law by hosting them.  As such, if an underage account is reported to these websites, it is almost guaranteed to be shut down within twenty-four hours.  To a parent who discovers that their child is social networking this can seem like a very definitive solution.  However, there is absolutely nothing to stop that same child re-signing up for another account, lying about their age and keeping it hidden from you.  This also means that they will not come to you to talk about any issues they have on the social network as, when you were aware of it previously, you took it away from them.  There is no easy solution to this problem.  However, again, it comes back to parents being open and honest with their children about the pros and cons of social networking and, most importantly of all, ensuring that children know how to keep themselves safe on social networks – if they are eventually allowed to join them.  If your child is engaging with social networking (and there are some social networks which allow access for children of any age), make sure you and they know how the social network works.

  • Teach them how to lock their privacy settings down so that only their friends can see what they post.
  • Talk to them about what is appropriate and what is inappropriate to post online, both in terms of text and photos.
  • Make sure they know how to report something, if they see anything inappropriate (virtually all social networks will have somewhere you can report inappropriate content to – it is just not always easy to find! Check the menus and links at the top and bottom of the websites).
  • Talk to them about ensuring that their only friends on social networks are friends they have in the real world as, unfortunately, not everyone is who they say they are online.

Social networking can be a challenging but rewarding place for both children and adults but make sure that children know exactly how to keep themselves safe when using them.  The time taken to do this when they first start engaging with social networks and skills taught will last a lifetime.

Make sure your child knows what to do if they do come across inappropriate content or something that makes them feel uncomfortable. 

Lots of parents talk to their children about their fire escape plan or provide a place to meet when in a crowded area.  This is done so that the children know what to do if the worst happens.  However, do you always take the time to do this in the online world?  Some adults find the Internet a scary place, so imagine what it is like for a child.  Take the time to talk to your child about what to do if someone asks them to do something they are not comfortable with, they stumble across inappropriate content or a link comes up that they are unsure whether to click.   In The Discovery School, we have a rule of, if you see something inappropriate or that bothers you, close the screen (don’t close the window or shut down the device) and tell a trusted adult straight away.  We would then deal with this by talking about how the children accessed the content (not a frequent occurrence because of the strict filtering in Kent schools) and go through the steps that they took that led them to inappropriate content.  We would then talk about the content itself.  This way the children learn about the kinds of key word searches that may return inappropriate content as well as the reason why some of that content is online.  This could be an excellent ‘Internet Survival Plan’ for your house too.  The important thing about adopting a plan such as this is to ensure that the child is praised for bringing the inappropriate content to you and not scalded for typing in the wrong thing.  If the child is scalded and the device removed from them, they may not talk to you if they find inappropriate content or something makes them feel uncomfortable again and next time it could be something even more serious.

Ceops – arguably the most important website on the Internet. 

Many people have seen the CEOPs logo on websites (most people think it is an eye on legs, it is in fact a person with their hands on their head).  However, fewer people know what it actually is or what they actually do.  To quote the CEOPs website,

 “This is a place where you can report any inappropriate or potentially illegal activity with or towards a child online. This might be a conversation with someone online who you think may be an adult, and is treating a child in a way which makes you feel uncomfortable, or you think may be trying to meet them for sex.”

Who they are,

“The Government has set up the CEOP Centre to take these reports and make sure that young people are safe online. This Centre is staffed by specialist police officers and investigators. Your report will go to straight to them, however if the report is deemed to require immediate action outside of the Centre's operating hours the information will automatically be passed to one of our Virtual Global Taskforce members, all of whom are law enforcement, who will look at it and decide if it requires immediate action and send an alert back to the UK if required.”

Teaching children that it is important to report inappropriate or illegal activity is just as important as trying to protect them from it.  This helps children to understand that it important to protect other people from the dangers they can face on the Internet too.  Following on from the method of closing the screen and telling a trusted discussed earlier, the next step would be to discuss with the child whether you think it is serious enough to report to CEOPs and, if so, fill in the report together, so that they are aware of how to help prevent future problems for other people.

Age appropriate content and gaming. 

Online gaming (including on games consoles, such as Xbox, Playstation and Wii) is another area that can be fraught with difficult choices for parents and carers.  Many parents buy games for their children and allow them to use their online account to play games with people all over the world.  However, are they always aware of the world they are allowing them access to?

Playing games online can be a fun and rewarding experience for children.  However, they are often able to talk to complete strangers from around the world and have written or oral conversations with them.  This can be incredibly exciting for a child.  However, are they aware that these strangers aren’t their friends in real life and could lie about their age or identity?  Do they know to ignore or report any inappropriate or threatening language that they hear whilst playing the game?  Are they resilience enough to cope if someone online destroys their game or online world?  These are all questions worth considering when allowing children access to these multi-user online gaming platforms.  It is important to ensure that children are prepared for the kind of things that can happen during these games and that they feel comfortable enough to talk to you about when they see or hear something that makes them feel uncomfortable.   Remember, if they feel that you will take away their access to a game or console if they tell you when something goes wrong, they are less likely to tell you again in the future.  Make sure that they have the strategies in place to deal with any issues that may arise in the games.

One of the biggest issues arising from online gaming, particularly on games consoles, relates to the appropriateness of the content that parents allow their children access to.  Parents can sometimes buy games and be unaware that they contain graphic scenes of violence or even sexual content.  Most parents would not allow their children to watch a film that is rated far above their current age, but don’t seem to mind purchasing a game that is rated as such.  Often, these games can contain content that is just as graphic and disturbing as movies of the same rating.  What is more, they portray such images in a fun and entertaining way so that children become desensitised to such images.  It is really important that parents become aware of the PEGI rating for games that can be seen on the back of the disk’s packet.  These ratings give you a good idea of both the age limit for the game as well as an idea of the content of the game.  By using this information, parents can they make an informed decision about the appropriateness of the game for their child.  Another tip is to ensure that you either play the game with your child or spend some time watching them play the game.  This allows you to see more clearly how a child is interacting with the game and whether you are happy with the kind of images it is allowing them access to.

This is not to say that online gaming is a world that you should not allow your children to access.  However, it is important to be fully aware of what your child is playing/doing online and ensure that they have the skills and resilience to deal with any challenging situations they may face whilst doing so.

As children approach their teenage years, be aware of the ‘behind the bike shed’ factor.  

For many parents, this may not be something that they are concerned about currently or that they feel will not be an issue for their child.  However, children sharing graphic images of themselves with a boyfriend, girlfriend or close friend is becoming much more prevalent and at a much younger age.  In the past, people did not have the means of sharing images of themselves in what feels like a private fashion.  They may have instead done this ‘behind the bike shed’.  However, with modern technology children feel that they can share graphic images of themselves with someone they trust and that this will be ok.  However, these images can quickly be circulated amongst other people through the forwarding of e-mails or text.  Therefore, what felt like a private image to ‘their one true love that they are going to be spending the rest of their life with’ can quickly become the image on an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend’s phone.  Unfortunately, this image can just as quickly be shared, via text or social media, and become something that can be used either intentionally or inadvertently to hurt the feelings of the person involved.  It is really important as adults, therefore, that we teach children the danger of sending such images to other people and how situations like these can quickly spiral out of control.  Unfortunately, what would have once stayed behind the bike shed can quickly escalate into something that is clearly in the public domain.

We hope that you have found this guide useful. If you would like to know more about this important topic and get further advice, below is a list of websites that can provide this for you.

CEOPs – the place to get advice on and report an inappropriate or potentially illegal content or action that you see online.

ThinkUKnow – an excellent website that has all sorts of advice for parents and carers as well as sections for children who want to learn about online safety for themselves - an excellent resource to look at as a family.

UK Safer Internet Centre – this website contain a wealth of resources and content about how to keep children safe online.  They are also the group behind the Safer Internet Day initiative that is celebrated on a yearly basis.

Know It All for Parents – is a unique interactive online safety guide put together by Childnet International.

NSPCC – advice on the appropriateness of online content from the NSPCC.

Kidsmart – a fantastic online resource with excellent online safety tips.  There is also a fantastic children’s section for your children to explore.

Digizen – a fantastic resource that includes all sorts of advice on how we, as adults, can encourage children to become responsible digital citizen and discerning when viewing digital content. – advice on how to support children who are using social networking sites.

Pegi – information on the games rating system and what the codes on the back of games tell you about their content.

Google – information from Google on how to keep your family safe online.