Helping to keep children and young people safe online

Technology (and the internet) presents many great opportunities to children and parents alike. It can assist with education, study and research and help us stay in touch with friends and family around the world. As well as these many benefits, however, it can also pose risks – most acutely to those who are most vulnerable, such as children.

It is important that parents are aware of the potential dangers which the internet can pose – from loss of privacy, to cyberbullying, to online grooming and more besides. Children and young people are taught about road safety and ‘stranger danger’ from a young age – parents and carers should also be equipped with the knowledge to teach their children about healthy online behaviour which can help to mitigate risks.

At times, it may feel as though there is a knowledge gap between parents and children or young people in relation to the online world. Many parents query how they can best help keep their children safe online. There are lots of things parents can do to help support and protect.

Keeping lines of communication open with children and young people in relation to their online behaviour can be a powerful force for helping them to stay safe. Rather than waiting until a problem arises, parents and carers can begin having appropriate conversations with their children from a young age. They can introduce their children to the concepts that content posted online can be very difficult to remove, that people may not be who they seem online as anyone can create an anonymous online identity and that it is important to exercise caution when communicating online as a result.

If your child is active online, perhaps you could talk with them about what they like to do online. Do they like to play games – if so, which ones? Who do they like to play with, or talk to? What do they view online?

In communicating with their children, parents and carers can agree and set healthy boundaries around how their child should engage online. Parents and carers can also set up parental safety controls on devices including smartphones, tablets, computers and gaming systems. These can help to reduce the risk of their child encountering inappropriate content online. If a parent or carer is unsure about how to set these controls, family members, friends, or professionals – such as assistants in technology stores – are often very happy to share their knowledge and help.

Online gaming and other online activities can be enjoyable for young people, but there are risks involved. Every child has the right to be safe – both online and offline. Parents and carers should empower themselves with information around the games, devices and technologies their children wish to use. They can then help their child/ren to choose a game to play which is age-appropriate. Children can take steps in a bid to stay safe online too – including holding back from sharing any information about themselves and only making friends with people they already know in an offline setting.

This article was contributed by IPSCC, a member of Parenting Limerick. Parenting Limerick is a network of parenting and family support organisations. 

Any child or young person who wishes to talk about anything they have encountered online, or anything else which may be on their mind, can access support from Childline by calling 1800 66 66 66 (24 hours a day), chatting online at (10am – 4am daily) or texting to 50101 (10am – 4am daily).