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How to protect children’s online safety, according to experts

Though it’s been around for almost 30 years, the Internet becomes more entrenched in our daily lives everyday. With every technological advancement that adds convenience to our lives, we see ourselves becoming more reliant on the perks of online shopping, banking, socialising – you name it.

But there’s a slightly darker side that comes with that. From cyberbullying to internet fraud, online safety is a huge issue, particularly with most of us spending more hours in front of a screen since the pandemic.

Research has found that over 80 per cent of children aged 12-15 have had potentially harmful experiences online. In honour of Safer Internet Day, here are the top things to consider when trying to protect your younger loved ones from the more dangerous sides of the Internet.

Make sure you set secure passwords

A large amount of adults aren’t vigilant enough with their passwords, with 41 per cent of us using the same password on multiple accounts.

“It’s crucial to teach children early on about the importance of creating strong passwords as this will help protect them from getting hacked and having their private information released on the internet,” Tom Gaffney, a principal consultant at cyber security company F-Secure, says.

“Educating children about how to set a secure password and why it needs to be kept private is vital when it comes to keeping them safe online.”

Use an internet security suite to set parental controls

“It’s impossible to supervise children every time they use the internet, especially when you have other kids or are working from home, and there has to be a degree of privacy and trust,” Gaffney says.

“However, using an internet security suite with parental controls enables you to set boundaries for online usage, block harmful content while also offering anti-virus, ransomware and malware protection.”

Think about the location of the online device

“Will your child be online in a shared family space or their bedroom?” Will Gardner OBE, director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, asks. “By having the device in a shared room, you’re able to monitor usage.

“This includes time spent on the device, reminding your child about the risks of communicating online with people they don’t know, and importantly, reminding them they can come to you with any concerns.”

Offer clear advice on what they should do if they find something negative

“Owing to children’s natural curiosity and the vastness of the internet, it’s inevitable that they will encounter negative content from time to time; the trick is how to deal with it,” Gaffney advises. “If you punish them for viewing such content, they are less likely to confide in you in future, which will be detrimental in the long run.

“Instead, praise them for coming to you and make it clear they should always inform you if they see anything that scares or upsets them.”

Gaffney recommends giving the following advice to children for when they encounter something nasty online: Close the app or browser and talk to a trusted adult such as a parent or teacher. Additionally, do not share any personal information such as where you live, the school or clubs you attend, or email addresses to anyone online that you do not know in person.

Talk to your children without judgement

In order to make sure that you have a strong line of communication, it’s so important to make sure they know you won’t judge them for any mistakes or indiscretions they might make online.

“It’s important to speak to your children about what they do online, you can start off with some basic questions to understand their virtual footprint, Gardner says. “What games do they play with their friends online? Can they show you the websites they visit the most? Would they like to play their favourite online game together?

“Then, if they do want to speak to you about anything concerning online, they can be reassured that you are ready and willing to listen, without judgement.”

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