What is online consent and how can I discuss this with my child?

Asking permission before sharing an image or being aware of what it means when accepting terms and conditions is important when it comes to helping children stay in control of their online lives. Get expert advice on how to talk to children about consent to help them better navigate their online world.


Kathryn Tremlett

Professionals Online Safety Helpline Practitioner
Expert Website

Consent online can be broken down into 2 parts: giving permission for your content to be used and asking permission to use other peoples. As a parent, it’s about empowering your child to take ownership of the decisions they make online and at the same time, checking in with them to make sure everything is ok.

Why is it any different to consent offline? Well, in short, it shouldn’t be and the same values of respect, courtesy and patience should apply. But, when we’re living in a world where self-worth can be valued by the number of likes a piece of content receives, giving permission is reduced to a box-ticking exercise and don’t even get me started on persuasive design, is it any surprise that consent becomes a neglected online topic? Furthermore, as parent’s we’re tasked with teaching the moral values associated with consent on the one hand but then persuaded by commercial companies that monitoring apps used to keep an eye on what our children get up to online without them knowing about it are the best way to keep children safe. Also when we can’t resist sharing that #proudparent moment we fall into sharenting territory often not considering our child’s rights. We cannot expect our children to value consent in online relationships when we belittle and contradict the moral values underpinning it on a daily basis.

So how can you tackle this topic with your own children? It doesn’t have to be a new conversation, make it part of the chats you’re already having. Talking about self-worth and how this is valued is a good place to start. If we can talk openly with our children about what self- worth means this will inevitably open up other discussions around body image which may, in turn, lead onto how this is perceived online. A natural progression from this point may be to talk about consent, talking about power, image, shame, empathy and all the morals associated with this topic.

Need a helping hand getting the conversation flowing? Why not take a look at the SID 2019 education packs for parents and carers for starters. Try not to worry too much if something distressing comes to light as a result of the discussions you’re having. If we can get confused about our own rights and responsibilities regarding consent in an online world it’s only fair to allow our children space to explore their own perceptions about consent online. You may talk about harmful online behaviours and this might make you feel uneasy but don’t panic; there is support out there:

SWGfL’s new tool, Report Harmful Content Online is available to anyone over the age of 13 and provides information on community standards for all the main social networking sites including how to report harmful content online. Where reports have been made and content not removed, we can mediate, explaining why content hasn’t been removed and providing assistance in removing harmful content from platforms where appropriate.

The best thing you can do as a parent is to try and keep an open and honest dialogue with your child, building on the trust that is key to a successful parent/ child relationship every day. This way, when they do need help, they’ll more likely come to you and knowing is the first step towards being able to help.

Will Gardner

Director, UK Safer Internet Centre, coordinators of Safer Internet Day and CEO, Childnet
Expert Website

For young people, the online world is exciting and fun, as it brings so many opportunities to learn, create and connect. Safer Internet Day is a fantastic opportunity to have a conversation with children about using the internet safely, responsibly and positively. By talking to your child, you can really help them to explore how they can practically ask, give, and receive permission online. This could be in their friendships or relationships, how they take and share images and videos or how they manage their privacy and data. By discussing scenarios that they may face and exploring how they can respond, you can help your child develop the practical skills they need to navigate the online world.

Why not talk through the different opinions you have as a family by using our conversation starters and video content to help you to discuss how each of you feels about permission online, and when you think consent is needed.

We have also created a range of resources to help you, these include top tips, fact sheets, plans you can put in place and more.

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