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

Online consent is an important concept for children to understand. From asking before sharing photos of others to accepting terms and conditions, consent is present in many parts of our online lives.

Get expert advice on how to talk to children about online consent to help them better navigate their digital world.

Kathryn Tremlett

Professionals Online Safety Helpline Practitioner
Expert Website

What is online consent?

Online consent can be broken down into 2 parts: giving permission for your content to be used and asking permission to use other people’s.

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 okay.

How is it different to consent offline?

In short, it isn’t. The same values of respect, courtesy and patience should apply.

However, when we’re living in a world where self-worth is often valued by the number of likes a piece of content receives and 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 to keep an eye on what our children get up to online by using monitoring apps without them knowing.

Then there are those moment when we can’t resist sharing that #ProudParent moment and 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.

How can you tackle the topic of online consent?

It doesn’t have to be a new conversation; make it a part of the chats you already have. 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. This includes talking about power, image, shame, empathy and all the morals associated with this topic.

Try not to worry too much if something distressing comes to light as a result of the discussions you have. 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. Use the following resources to help:

  • Report Harmful Content: This tool 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.
  • Online Identity Series: A video series that focuses on helping children find their online identity and share their true selves.
  • Sharing Gone Wrong: An interactive story all about asking permission before sharing content online, and getting support when things go wrong.

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.