Having meaningful conversations to get them ready to connect online

Advice for Parents & Carers

Get tips on how to get young people ready to interact with their friends and family online.

Mum and dad with speech marks

Questions to ask

When asking questions make sure they are open-ended and feel like a conversation. Here are a few to get you started:
What do you want to be online?

The choices we make online say something about who we are. Share our Internet Manners guide to help your child understand how they should behave to stay positive online. Also, discuss ways that they can use their social presence to be a set a good example online.

How much would they share about themselves?

Talk to your child about the risks of sharing where they live or go to school, and what people online might do with that information. Talk about what the risks might be from sharing personal thoughts and feelings.

How much time should they spend on social media?

Talk about the possible impact of spending too much time online and agree on sensible ‘bed-times’ and breaks during the day. Create opportunities as a family to get ‘off-line’ and have fun together.

What apps do you want to use and why?

Find out the reason why your child wants to use a specific app to get a better understanding of how they’ll use it in the future.

If you haven’t heard of the app before, look out for reviews of the app or download it yourself to see what your child might be exposed to.

Does your child know what and who to trust online?

There is a lot online that is made up or exaggerated, and there can be a lot of pressure to show what a great time you’re having. There is always the possibility that someone is not who they say they are. Teach your child to question what they see and talk to you if something doesn’t seem quite right.

Explaining things to your child

Some children and young people will interpret the words we use literally. They are also unlikely to understand metaphors and this can lead to them misunderstanding online safety videos routinely shown to the whole class.

  • Empty phrases: ‘Think before you click’ is a common message which can mean nothing to a young person with additional needs. Of course, we think before we do anything, that is what makes our muscles work.
  • Predator: The word ‘predator’ can mean a wild animal if that is the sense in which they have learned this word.
  • Stranger: Someone they talk to online might not be viewed as a stranger if they talk often, know their name and receive a ‘friend request’ from this person.
  • Personal Information: If you must ever share personal information online, how do you tell online shops where to deliver what you bought or set up a social media account?
  • Rules: Parents long for clear and simple rules. But there are usually exceptions to commonly used online safety rules which can sometimes be confusing for children, especially those with learning difficulties. Try and set rules that are clear, consistent and adjusted for your child. If the rule can be misinterpreted, try a different approach. Replace “Don’t share personal information online”, with “Always ask your trusted adult, before sharing personal information online”.

Create checkpoints to talk

If you decide to let your child use a social media platform, it’s important to keep the conversation going about what they are doing and how they are interacting with others.

Putting in place a family agreement to ensure they know the rules and boundaries of when and how they are to use the app can help manage expectations and help them make smarter choices.

Also, reviewing their privacy settings every once in a while to make sure they are sharing their posts with the right people can help them stay safe.

What can a child do if they see something horrible or if something bad happens online?

No matter how many precautions you take there will be times where your child feels hurt, scared, or confused by something they’ve seen or experienced. Calmly talk through what they’ve seen, how to understand it, and what you can do together to make things better.

What if your child makes a mistake or does something they later regret?

The important thing is that your child talks to someone if they’ve messed up. Try not to get angry or overreact. Work out together on how to remove content and make amends for any harm caused.

Young people often avoid telling a parent about a problem on social media because they are scared their parents might take away their phone or their social media account. So it is best not to threaten to do this, but instead, make it clear that you are there to help.

If they find it hard to talk to you, let them know they can always contact confidential helplines like Childline if they need advice or another trusted adult.

They’re not ready, what next?

If you feel that they’re not ready for social media, and you say no, they might still go ahead and create an account without your knowledge.

Children will test boundaries and may create secret accounts which could make it harder for them to seek your support if they run into any problems.

Try and redirect their interest towards a more suitable app and make sure to keep the conversation going.

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