Online safety by age

Online safety by age

The right level of online safety for your child

Monitoring your child’s online presence can be tricky – especially as technology advances so quickly, and it may feel like your child knows the Internet better than you do. Children have different needs and interests at each stage of their lives, so we’ve put together some helpful tips that are relevant to your child’s age.


Today, children are getting younger and younger when they start using personal computers and devices. At this age, it’s important to start educating your children, and for them to understand the boundaries early on.

  • Keep the computer in a communal space, such as the living room or kitchen, where you can explore together. You’ll also be able to monitor their time spent online. Once you’ve set up a password on the WiFi, so your child has to ask you when they’d like to access the Internet.
  • On devices, only download age-specific or child-friendly apps. Make sure their devices or accounts haven’t got in-app purchases set up, so there’s no risk of a hefty unexpected bill.
  • Set up a ‘white list’ – this is a tool that blocks every website from access, except a select few that you choose. Add onto the ‘white list’ only the websites you’d like your child to have access to.

Primary school

The Internet is a great platform for your children to communicate with friends, access entertainment and develop knowledge. As they start to spend more time on the Internet, it’s important that they’re protected from inappropriate content and that they understand why they can’t copy their older siblings online.

  • Julie Fossi from the NSPCC says “most of today’s internet-enabled devices like tablets and phones come with pre-installed content filters and other parental controls.” Therefore “it’s important to set these up before handing the device over to your child.” You can do this with consoles as well.
  • If you have in-app purchases set up on devices, turn on ‘airplane mode' when you give your child the device. This will disconnect the phone from the internet and prevent any unexpected in-app payments.
  • Fossi points out that “the digital world is a great place for children to socialise, learn and have fun but there are risks.” There’s a range of books available to purchase online, which are an entertaining but effective way to teach young children about the dangers of the internet.

Secondary school

As your child goes through the transition of becoming a teenager, Internet usage becomes embedded into their daily routine. However, there are many issues they could face such as cyber-bullying, peer pressure or inappropriate content. With teenagers, it’s really important to strike the balance between protection and freedom to browse. You should have regular, open discussions about issues that may affect them, and why they need to be careful online. Bev Smith from Friendly WiFi says that you should “learn from your child about the places they visit when outside the home to access public WiFi.”

  • As they get older, they will want access to content which may have a higher age rating. Carolyn Bunting from Internet Matters says “it’s really important to set your children’s social media profiles to private.” Have a discussion about what content is inappropriate and why, then tweak the parental controls to what fits their maturity. It’s important your teenager understands what’s been applied, as well as why you’ve set these boundaries.
  • Social media is a big part of their world. Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online recommends reminding “them that written comments, photos and videos all form part of their ‘digital footprint’. It could be seen by anyone and available on the internet forever, even if it is subsequently deleted.” So when they set up social media accounts, make sure they’re set to private so only friends can see their profile.
  • Teenagers will want to spend more and more time out with their friends. Bev Smith also says, “Children could be in danger when connecting to public WiFi hotspots which appear to be legitimate but when actually they could be rogue attacks on the availability, integrity and privacy of a connection.” Encourage your teenagers to use Friendly WiFi spots when out and about, to prevent any unwanted activity on their devices when you’re not around.
  • Online banking has become a common way to check account balances. Make sure your child has the relevant banking app downloaded to their phone – this means any transactions done through the app is secure. Make sure they understand to use different passwords for any online accounts, and to also not use their date of birth. This will prevent unwanted people hacking personal information on all their online accounts.

All ages

For all children – no matter what age they are – the most important thing you can do is talk. Carolyn Bunting suggests that “showing an interest in your child’s activities is a good way of understanding what your child is up to on their tablet or phone.” Make time to educate yourself about the issues your child could face online, especially if they’ve been given misinformation from other adults or at school. Caroline Hurst, Educational and Training Manager for Childnet says “if you do decide on setting up parental controls and filters in your household, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your family about why you’re setting them up. Hurst also says that “it’s important for parents to engage in their child’s online lives as much as possible.” Let them show you things, learn about their interests and any current Internet issues – you want them to feel they can come to you if there was anything wrong.

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