Expert advice on how to encourage children to share safely online

By Expert Panel on

The internet offers children a great place to share their lives with friends and family but it is increasing important to make sure they know how to do it safely. In this article experts give advice on questions surrounding oversharing, monitoring what children share online and the safest social platforms for children.

Experts answer questions from parents on kids sharing online

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Will Gardner

CEO, Childnet
Director, UK Safer Internet Centre

Oversharing – What are the real dangers?

There are a number of different issues that arise with oversharing but what are the real dangers that parents should be aware of?

Children love to share and it’s important that parents and carers help them to make good decisions about what they share and with who, by helping them to consider the impact on themselves and others.

Many parents speak to children about what they might share about themselves online, especially risky content like nude selfies or identifying information like their school name or home address. But sometimes it’s easy to forget to speak to children about the responsibility they have to others – especially other young people – when it comes to sharing online.

It’s essential that young people understand the responsibility they have to others and that they understand potential consequences of their actions. By empowering young people to act as kind and considerate digital citizens we can all help to make the internet a better place for all young people.

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Carmel Glassbrook

Helpline Practitioner
South West Grid for Learning

Social media platforms made for kids

Social media is a great tool for children to interact, are there any safe social sites that you’d encourage parents to get their children to use as a testing ground to get them sharing safely?

There are now quite a few social media apps and sites designed with children in mind, creating safer spaces with clear rules, which is fantastic. However, no matter how safe a place has been made, whether it’s on or offline, places that attract a lot of children is also going to attract unsavoury types, so we can’t just rely on the safe-ness of these apps, a level of supervision is still needed.

My personal favourite is Pop Jam, it’s a really fun and creative place for children to explore in a very safe way. Even as an adult I have spent a good deal of time drawing/decorating their daily challenge and swapping ever more out of this world cat pictures to my boss’ 8 year old son.

The app is aimed at primary age children and therefore has some fantastic safety features; you are not allowed selfies on the app, not only making things a bit safer but also not perpetuating the selfie obsessed culture we live in, 5 year olds pouting? No thanks. They have opening hours (6am -11pm) we all know that sleep deprivation in young people is a real problem, this is a really proactive step to tackle it.  The team at PopJam also pre-moderate every single post, that’s right, so in theory nothing should be posted that hasn’t been checked. Give it a go…

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Catherine Knibbs

Child/adult Trauma Therapist BACP specialising in and working with online abuse and Cybertrauma

Encouraging kids to talk about what they share

Children can be reluctant to let their parents into their online world. Are there any tips to encourage children to feel confident about letting their parents be part of it?

What are you doing? – Depending on my tone of voice this question can be perceived to be nosey, curious or rude.

Perhaps If I asked this question using an approach by Marshall Rosenberg and it sounded like a request rather than a demand, you may be more likely to answer me and probably spend some time explaining why you were doing what you were doing also.

Human beings like to tell stories and engage the other person in what they are doing as it helps them feel felt (See Dan Siegels work on this), people love to listen to stories too.

In the world of digital interactions, often children can be preoccupied with their device or app and as parents when we ask the question “what are you doing” or “who are you talking to” it can sometimes feel intrusive or rude. Children don’t always want to share something they (may) perceive as either theirs or an in group activity (this feels like “my friends not yours”).

So how do you approach this as a parent?

Firstly be curious and not nosey (they are different and feel very different) and ask a question that is open, honest and shares your intention to keep them safe. This may look like the following:

“I notice you are busy/having fun/looking worried/hiding your phone and I wondered what you might be doing?, I don’t want to interrupt you I am interested and would like to keep you safe”

Be prepared for a no. (Your question may be a surprise)

If so resolve to try again in a short while.

There’s no recipe for this, so patience, understanding and making requests not demands are probably the best ingredients to use.
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Dr Emma Bond

Associate Professor
Faculty Arts, Business and Applied Social Sciences
University of Suffolk

Monitoring children online – Is it okay?

Is it okay for parents to use software to monitor what their children share online?

As children are increasingly more likely to access social media via a mobile device and from the privacy of their bedroom it is often hard for parents to know what their children are sharing online. However, there is not a simple answer to the above question. Keeping children safe is not just about monitoring what they do or what they share online. It is better to prevent them sharing things they shouldn’t than finding out after the event!

Recent conversations I have had with primary school age children reveal that some parents do use monitoring software and that children know that their parents can see what they are doing. But parents should employ a range of strategies to help their children stay safe online. If children know they are being monitored, younger children may be less likely to take risks but they do not have this protection when sharing on friends’ devices and older children are more likely circumnavigate the surveillance.

Furthermore, using parental controls on home broadband and on internet enabled devices is key to keeping younger children safe. Developing children’s digital literacy skills by teaching them about privacy settings and how to block unwanted content themselves is also essential.

Most importantly for parents of any age of child it is vitally important to stay involved with their online lives by having ongoing conversations about what they are sharing and who they are sharing content with. In this way children are also more likely to talk to parents if they are worried. The best way to keep your child safe online is to take an active interest.

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Additional Resources

If you’d like more advice and support to help your child deal with share safely online, please visit these resources: