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.
Create a safe space for children to feel at ease to talk about online experiences.
1. Talk to them early and often about what they do online to make it easier to maintain good communication. Even if they are slow to share, keep trying, and don’t give in
2. Choose the right time to talk when your child feels more comfortable, i.e. over a meal or during a bedtime routine
3. Share your own experiences to help them learn from you and make sure to model the behaviour you’d like them to show
4. Give your child the space to talk during a conversation so they feel that their point of view matters
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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