Discovering digital at Primary

As children start primary school, they also start to use more technology. Prepare for the new school year, by learning about the online safety issues your child might face.

Inside the guide

From reception to the end of primary school, children’s digital journey changes a lot. At a younger age, they might engage more with videos and tablet games. However, as they start primary school, they might talk more with family and friends or play online games with others.

This increase in online interactions exposes them to more varied risks as well as opportunities. To help them build the right online habits from the start and find ways to make the most of the opportunities the internet brings, we’ve created this guide.

What are kids doing online?

As they start primary school and their digital journey, they learn the online world is a place of endless possibilities where ‘you can do anything’. Before they’ve even learned to read, most can navigate through devices to play games and watch cartoons.

What the research says

According to a 2022 report from Ofcom, 99% of households with children aged 0-17 had and used internet access at home. 9/10 children own a smartphone by the time they reach the age of 11. Also, nearly half (47%) of children aged 3-17 use a laptop to go online. So, we know that children of all ages have a lot of access to the internet.

Although children are curious about the online world, their understanding of what ‘online’ means and how, why and who puts content there is limited. They’re not yet equipped to evaluate whether something is appropriate for them, so guidance from parents and carers is key.

Childwise research found that  62% of children aged 7-16 had access to their phones at all times with Ofcom identifyin video-sharing platforms as the most popular media use for primary-aged children at 94%.

Popular platforms in primary school

Children aged 8-11 are likely to have TikTok (34%) and YouTube (27%) accounts. However, it’s important to note that TikTok and many other social media platforms require its users to be aged 13 or older. See our list of social media platforms appropriate for those in primary school.

Ofcom reports that 89% of children aged 3-17 watch YouTube on a variety of platforms, including Smart TVs and video gaming consoles. On average, children aged 7-16 are likely to spend two hours on the platform every day.

When it comes to online safety, schools often play a large part in teaching children how to engage with the online world. They use tech in the classroom to present children starting primary school with new opportunities for learning and creativity. Visit the Digital Matters learning platform for ways to teach children about online safety.

Our ambassador Dr Linda Papadopoulos shares advice to support primary school children online

Real-life experiences

See what others have experienced to get a true picture of the online challenges children face as they start primary school.

A parent’s experience

Adele Jennings of shares her experience managing her child’s digital world.

A child’s experience

Jacob Jennings of shares his experience of learning about online safety at school.

A teacher’s experience

Jenny Burret shares what kids learn about the online world at primary school.

What are the digital risks and challenges?

As well as offering children the opportunity to ‘do anything’, the internet can expose children to things they may not be ready for. This could include inappropriate content, extreme ideas and privacy or security issues either by accident or through an intentional search.

When they start primary school, they may start to communicate with others through gaming or social networks. There’s the temptation here to overshare information. As such, this could lead to incidents of cyberbullying or put them at risk of grooming.

Also, we know from research that the time they spend online increases as they age. Therefore, there is the added need for them to learn how to regulate and balance the amount of time they spend online and offline.

From our own research, parents say that children between 6 and 10-years-old are naive. They say their curiosity can unintentionally put them in harm’s way. Parents worry their children might find inappropriate sexual or violent content online, particularly at the age they start primary school.

What parents tell us 

Ofcom research published in February 2020 identified the following key points:

On screen time: 34% of parents of 8-11-year-olds said that they found it hard to control their child’s screen time. As children start primary school, parents will need to work with schools to find a balance.

On benefits and risks: Around half of parents of 5-11-year-olds think that the benefits of being online outweigh the risks. Roughly ¾ of parents think they know enough to help keep their children safe online.

On harmful content: Just over ¼ of parents of 3 and 4-year-olds, rising to almost half of the parents of 8-11-year-olds, were concerned about their children seeing content that encourages them to harm themselves.

On being bullied: 43% of parents of 8-11-year-olds said that they were worried about their child being bullied when playing online games.

On managing data and information: 49% of parents were very/fairly concerned about companies collecting information about what their children are doing online.

On managing their online reputation: 40% of parents of 5-15-year-olds were very/fairly concerned about their children damaging their reputation either now or in the future.

Inappropriate content

Like looking up rude words in the dictionary before the internet, children remain curious creatures. They continue to push boundaries and repeat things they have heard about on the playground. However, where the dictionary would only provide text results, an online search will offer images and video as well.

Even if you expertly set filters to limit what your child is exposed to online, this is not the case everywhere they go. Their friends’ parents may not use filters or if they do, you can’t be sure the levels are the same as yours.

Whether it’s inappropriate pop-up ads, videos showcasing cartoon characters in adult contexts or forums promoting self-harm and extreme ideas, children can stumble across content that can make them feel upset and confused, whether intentional or not.

Increased risks of exposure 

The risk of exposure to these things increases depending on what they do online. When children take part in the following activities, the possibility and probability they will see inappropriate content increases:

  • Joining social networks before reaching the minimum age
  • Playing games and using apps which are not age-appropriate
  • Watching live streams which may show inappropriate content or taking part in them and being exploited

An NSPCC survey found that 78% of young people admitted to joining social media sites before reaching the minimum age. Half of the children surveyed had also seen sexual, violent or other adult material on social media.

Using apps and platforms that are not age-appropriate can expose children starting primary school to things that they may not be ready for. Whatever age your child is, it’s important to prepare them for what they might see. If it does happen, stay calm and use it as an opportunity to help them understand difficult topics. Praise them for coming to you. Overreacting could mean they avoid coming to you in the future.

Resource document

See our Inappropriate content advice hub to learn more about the issue and find practical ways to protect your child.

Girl with dog on her lap looking at mobile phone

Visit advice hub

Use our parental controls guides to set controls on children’s devices

FAQ: What is the impact on children?

Seeing inappropriate content at a young age can confuse children starting primary school. They may be unable to process what they see or experience.

At times, children may feel unable to share it with trusted adults. This is because they may feel ashamed or that they have done something wrong. According to research from LGfL, 1 in 5 children say they never told anyone the worst thing that happened to them. Furthermore, research from Roblox found that 91% of parents thought their children would ask them for help but only 26% of those children said the same. However, 53% said they would report a problem directly to the platform.

The emotional impact of such material can cause anxiety and stress in some cases. A UK study found that children reported a range of negative emotions after watching pornography. When they were first exposed to it, they felt shocked, upset and confused but became desensitised to it over time.

FAQ: What do schools do to help support children on this issue?

Using filtering and monitored internet access, schools create a safe space for children to explore opportunities the internet brings. Children are also taught the basics of online safety like keeping things private, where to go for support if something goes wrong and how to recognise negative behaviour online.  Also, guidance in PSHE and Relationships and Health Education now includes online safety education. This means schools are required to teach online safety topics to all children starting in primary school.

See the Digital Matters learning platform created to support schools and parents in this.

Mark Bentley of London Grid for Learning gives advice on what schools are doing  to support children online

Practical tips to support children

Learn how to set safety features on devices you share with your child to give them safer online experience
Conversations to have

Use storybooks to start conversations

Start talking about online safety as soon as they get online; using stories to introduce the topic can make it easier to spark a conversation. Ask them what they know about technology as well. It can be amazing just how much they do know and what they have picked up from watching others!

Talk about what is appropriate at different ages

Discuss what type of content is appropriate for children of different ages to see online and why. Explain that anyone can upload content to the internet and not all of it is suitable for children.

Agree together what is appropriate for them

Involve them so they feel part of the decision-making process. Doing this helps them take ownership of their individual online safety.

Encourage critical thinking

Help them think about why they like doing certain activities and what risks are involved online to start building their critical thinking skills.

Create a safe place for them to talk

As they start primary school, help them feel comfortable talking to you or a trusted adult if they run into issues online.

Talk about what is fake and what is real

Show them that not everything they see online is true and to check other sources if something appears ‘too good to be true’. CBBC have videos and articles you can share with your child. Check out this quiz from BBC Bitesize too.

Stand your ground on rules

Be prepared to push back if children ask to use apps that their friends are using that may not be suitable.

Talk about positive ways to use tech

Show that you understand the important role technology and the internet play in their life. Discuss other ways they can use tech to keep their online experiences positive.

Things you can do

Explore sites and apps together

Review sites together to make sure your child uses age-appropriate platforms. As they get older, make sure you review these to help broaden their media diet.

Set controls to block inappropriate content

Use parental controls to block access to adult sites such as pornography and those promoting self-harm or violence. Review these as they get older to ensure they give you the protection your child needs.

Set digital boundaries

Put a family agreement in place to identify and set boundaries highlighting the values and behaviour you would like them to showcase online. It is important for parents to agree to abide by some of these rules as well. For example, if your child cannot use their device at dinner, this should apply to you and anyone else in your family. Your child is more likely to follow suit if they’re not singled out.

Sharing too much information

Increasingly, platforms are incorporating different ways to share and connect with friends. Live streaming on TikTok, chatting on Roblox or talking to family on Facetime are all popular past times. As children start primary school, they become more active online and the social element becomes a staple in their digital diet.

According to the 2020 Childwise report, around half of 11-year-olds use social networking sites. However, the minimum age for most social platforms is 13. Roblox, TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp are among the most popular platforms used by this age group.

Changed interests and influences

With the growth of the Vloggers or YouTubers, young children are aspiring to copy those they see online. They want to share their world with wider audiences to get likes, views and comments. Increasingly, more and more children share content that may put them at risk in the future. Comments, jokes and pictures that are funny to them and their friends now could affect their influence future opportunities. Learn more about online reputation here.

Ofcom found that although high-profile YouTube stars remain popular, children are now increasingly drawn to influencers local to their area, or who have a particular shared interest. Children starting primary school are more likely to try and model themselves on these influencers as they are “like them”.

Although phrases like ‘think before you post‘ and ‘be share aware‘ are staples that children learn to help them manage what they share online, the temptation of posting interesting shareable moments to get the most likes may encourage them to take risks that could lead to harm.

What parents and children tell us

Research published by PEW in July 2020 found that 4 in 10 parents were at least somewhat concerned about data being collected about their child by voice-activated assistants.

According to research carried out by the UK Safer Internet Centre for Safer Internet Day 2019, 42% of children said their parent(s) shared something about them online without their permission. 16% of young people said this made them angry, and a further 25% said it made them feel anxious or not in control. The same research found that over 80% of children would tell their parents not to share something about them they didn’t want online. They said they would also ask them to take down something that had already been posted.

Ofcom research found that 34% of parents of 3-17-year-olds check the browser/device history after their children have been online. 70% of parents used content level filtering on their home networks though 91% were aware they existed. As children start primary school and continue their education, these controls are very important.

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Tips from parents on how to prevent kids from oversharing online.

Read parent story

Help your children share safely with tips from our experts

FAQ: What is the impact on children?

Inappropriate contact from strangers

Sharing too much information with the wrong people can leave children open to inappropriate contact from strangers who seek to groom them. This is an issue that many parents are concerned about, particularly for younger children just starting primary school who may not yet have the necessary skills to know who to trust online.


The anonymity of the screen makes it very easy for children to post things they would never say in real life. As children get more social online, they may post things that could lead to cyberbullying from peers. Others could make them feel pressured online and encourage them to bully others as a result. In both cases, this can adversely affect their wellbeing. It is also easy for content shared online to be misinterpreted without the benefit of facial expressions, body language and context.

Digital footprint

Most of what they post and share with others builds up their digital footprint which is valuable later on in life when applying for schools or jobs. Therefore, sharing something that seems funny now could reflect badly on them in the future. This is a difficult concept for some children at the start of primary school to grasp.

FAQ: What do schools do to help support children on this issue?

Issues around who to trust, what to share and how to protect personal data forms part of the Education for a Connected World framework. Schools are encouraged to use the framework when considering what to teach children about online safety. The profile of online safety has been raised significantly within all schools with government guidance and school inspectors all highlighting its importance.

Practical tips to support children

Common Sense Media video to educate children about the hazards of oversharing online
Conversations to have

Sharing personal information

Have a chat about personal information and what they understand this to be. Explore why it’s important including what it’s okay to share and what they should take care with. Explore Digital Matters’ lesson, Introduction to Protecting Personal Information Online to help them learn this concept.

Consider who they are talking to

Try and stay away from blunt messages such as ‘don’t talk to strangers online’ or ‘don’t give out any personal information online’.

Many children talk to strangers through the online games they play. While there is a risk associated with this, the probability of harm is not as significant as parents might think. That said, communicating with strangers online opens up the possibility for things to go wrong. Therefore, it is important that children at the start of primary school are aware of warning signs and that they know what to do.

Essentially, if they feel uncomfortable about the way someone is behaving or communicating online, they should tell someone (and report it to the site/game/platform as appropriate). It is important that when a child does come and share this information that parents don’t overreact. The important thing is that they have told you, and you can help them learn the next steps.

Assessing people’s intentions online

Make them aware that some people are not who they say they are online and why they may seek to connect with them online. Explore our grooming hub for advice and guidance on this topic.

Sharing images

Talk about when it’s safe and not safe to share images. Focus on how much personal information images can give away to help them think critically before they post.

The lifespan of content shared

Discuss the fact that anything you put online has the potential to be there for a long time and be seen by more than just the people it was shared with. Explore our online reputation advice hub for more guidance.

Pressure to post

Talk about the pressure to posts things just to get likes and comments and how to challenge this.

Repeat online safely message

Use the ‘broken record’ method to drive home the message of being ‘Share aware’ at all times when online. They might feel annoyed, but they won’t forget what to do for their online safety.

Relate the issue with stories in the media

Use stories in the press to discuss the potential dangers of oversharing online. The goal isn’t to scare them but to make them aware of the harms that could come with sharing too much personal information.

Things you can do

Age-appropriate apps

Get an understanding of what platforms they use to share and with whom to assess the potential risks. NetAware is a great tool that gives advice on the top 50 apps that children use. Common Sense Media, a US site, also offers reviews of apps and platforms by age.

Social media made for kids

Take a look at our list of social media platforms made for kids to help them connect with friends in a safer online platform


Teach them the parallels of etiquette in the real world versus the online world so they see the impact that what they share can have in real life.

Set digital boundaries

Work together on a family agreement to create digital boundaries so they are more aware of your values on what is safe to share online

Screen time

The time children starting primary school spend online nearly doubles from 7 hours per week between the ages of 3 and 7 to 13 hours when they are 8. Over 79% of parents of children aged 3-11 agree with this statement: “I think my child has a good balance between screen time and doing other things.” However, research from South West Grid for Learning found a clear link between the amount of time children spend online and their exposure to upset, risk and issues related to wellbeing.

Only 57% of parents of 12-15-year-olds thought their child had a good balance between screen time and other things, with 31% of 12-15-year-olds stating they found it hard to control their screen time.

Looking at these figures, it is tempting to focus on limiting the amount of time that children spend online to minimise the risks. However, it’s more important to consider what children are doing while they are online and the quality of the interaction and activity taking place.

Creating a good screen time balance

Not all screen time is created equal. Games such as Roblox are a great way for children to express their creativity and connect with friends. Equally, though, the social element of the game can pose a risk for children if age-appropriate controls are not put in place to protect them.

Assessing children’s online activities to minimise risks and maximise opportunities they bring is key at this stage.

What parents tell us

See parents’ views towards screen time based on our research into the issue.

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Managing screen time

88% of parents take measures to limit their child’s use of devices. However, parents of older children are less likely to do so as 21% of them say they don’t take any measures.

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Screen time concerns

Parents often feel they are fighting for their child’s attention and are worried that children are not getting enough exercise.

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Positive aspects of screen time

There are four reasons parents felt screen time would be good for kids:

  • it provides downtime from other activities
  • it’s a source of family entertainment
  • it allows children to tap into their creativity
  • it helps maintain relationships

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Smartphone ownership

Only 1 in 5 parents with children in year 6 say their children don’t currently have a mobile phone and will not to get one before they start secondary school.

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Visit our Screen time hub to manage help children get the best out of it.

Visit hub

Download our full guide to help your child get the best from their screen time.

FAQ: What is the impact on children?

From research, we know that screen time can affect children’s behaviour, wellbeing and sleep cycles.

  • Constant use of a device and features like auto-play on platforms can be habit forming and encourage children to spend longer on screens
  • The blue light from phones can trick the brain into thinking it’s still daylight, making it difficult to sleep
  • Screens can have a drug-like effect on children’s brains, which can make them more anxious
  • Too much screen time can make children more forgetful as they rely on things like Google, GPS and calendar alerts to look up information

Despite this, there is also evidence that exposure to tech improves children’s learning and development. Studies show that interactive ‘learn-to-read’ apps and e-books can build early literacy by providing practise with letters, phonics and word recognition.

When used in the right way,  the online world can be a great tool to help children explore their passions and bring to life concepts and information to make it easier to understand. See our guide to skill-building apps to help children start primary school with good screen time balance.

FAQ: What do schools do to help support children on this issue?

As well as other topics, children learn about how to manage and self-regulate their screen time as part of the curriculum. More and more schools also make use of tech in the classroom by giving children at the start of primary school access to virtual learning environments to introduce them to the online world. Creating such a space to explore can encourage children to develop good online habits as they grow.

Increasingly, schools are recognising the importance of a positive dialogue with children and young people. If they are aware the devices and platforms they use are designed in a way to keep them using the service for as long as possible, they are more likely to engage with the challenges this can pose. Schools should also provide pupils with strategies to help them to manage their screen time more effectively. However, this is ideally done in partnership with parents.

Practical tips to support children

The challenge is helping children to focus on what they are meant to be doing online. We find it hard as adults not to be distracted by the ping and push notifications, but we are unlikely to have the massive social interaction that our children have. So, giving them some tools to manage it is important.

Video from Commons Sense Media gives 5 Easy Screen Time Tips for Young Kids
Conversations to have

Impact on wellbeing

Get them to think about how what they do online can affect their wellbeing, including sleep, feelings and learning or focus at school.

Agree screen time rules

Talk about how much time they spend online and establish what is the right amount for them. See our age-specific screen time guides for more support.

Making the most of time offline

Talk about ways to combine what they love online with things they enjoy offline, i.e. using apps that encourage you to move and play outdoors. Our guide to skill-building apps can give them different options.

Build critical thinking skills

Help them to build critical thinking skills in order to understand that some features on platforms are designed to keep them watching or playing for as long as possible.

Things you can do

Model the behaviour that you’d like them to adopt

Set a good example with your own device use as children tend to copy what parents do. A rule about no devices at the dinner table is a good one to establish and for everyone in the family to abide by too.

Manage auto-play

Switch off auto-play on platforms to remove the temptation to binge watch. Visit our resource page on screen time to see how to manage this on different platforms.

Consider using monitoring apps

If you plan to use screen time monitoring apps on devices, this will let you set digital limits on the amount of time they spend online on certain apps. It’s important to do this with dialogue and understanding from your child. Help them understand why you are doing it and why this is beneficial for them.  It is important to balance this; consider what it is you are trying to protect them from – the considerations about probability versus possibility are important. There are lots of things that could go wrong online, but the chances of them happening to most children are low.

Use tech tools

Use tech tools and parental controls to help them manage the time they spend online and the apps they use. There are also apps like the Forest app that introduce a game element to managing screen time.

Combine active play

For younger children, find ways to combine touchscreen use with creative and active play. Try our active apps guide.

Unplug together

Get the whole family to unplug and create ‘screen-free’ zones at home.


Peer pressure online may include taking part in a prank and posting it on social media for all to see, sending a nude to a prospective boyfriend to show you’re really interested or taking part in cyberbullying. For children at the start of primary school, it’s important to teach good habits early.

Fitting in has always been a big part of what teenagers struggle with. The digital world has made this process much more complex with the rules constantly changing. Also, virtual friends can also have as much influence on young people as those they know in real life. Chasing likes and new followers for popularity or to fit into the status quo has created ‘virtual peer pressure’.

Tackling cyberbullying

Despite what we think, young people want boundaries. They seek out rules on how to behave in the right way to be liked. Positive peer pressure and engagement from parents can help teens establish good online habits and make smarter choices online. It’s all about starting early and talking often about the potential dangers of following advice that may lead them to compromise their values, break the law or put their health at risk for the sake of ‘fitting in’.

What parents tell us 

Nicola talks candidly about finding out her daughter was bullying others online and how they dealt with this as a family.
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Visit our cyberbullying advice hub to learn more about how to protect your child and deal with it should it happen.

Visit advice hub

Use our age specific interactive guide to help talk to your child about cyberbullying.

FAQ: What is the impact on children?

Unlike traditional forms of bullying, cyberbullying can happen 24/7 and messages sent can spread beyond a child’s friendship group which can intensify the bullying and cause more harm.

The digital friendships report found that 51% of 8-12-year-olds have felt sad in the last week because of something online. Similarly, 53% of 8-12 year olds said that they had seen people posting mean or threatening things online in the last year.

Mental health and Wellbeing

Cyberbullying can affect a child’s confidence, self-esteem and cause them to isolate themselves to protect themselves from the bullying. In extreme cases, it has led to suicide. 54% of young people who are bullied as a result of their appearance said that the bullying started by the age of 10. As children start primary school, this is an important topic to cover.

Problems at school

Whether children are victims or perpetrators of the bullying, this can affect their ability to learn and stay in school if they fear those doing the bullying.

Legal issues

Although bullying and cyberbullying are not specific criminal offences in UK law, children can face legal repercussions if the bullying is racist or homophobic. Harassment, malicious communications, stalking, threatening violence and incitement are all crimes whether they are starting primary school or well into secondary. There are a range of laws that criminalise activity that may be related to cyberbullying, including discrimination, harassment and threats. It is important to remember that the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10.

FAQ: What do schools do to help support children on this issue?

All schools have a policy that guides their response to incidents, they may have mentors who can help or carry out ‘Anti-bullying programmers’ to raise awareness. Even if it happens outside of the school they have a duty to investigate and take action if needed. Parents should feel that they can approach the school for help and support if they feel that their child is being bullied.

Government guidance around cyberbullying clearly states that school leaders, teachers, school staff, parents and pupils all have rights and responsibilities in relation to cyberbullying and should work together to create an environment in which pupils can learn and develop and staff can have fulfilling careers free from harassment and bullying. It also states that every school should have clear and understood policies in place that include the acceptable use of technologies by pupils and staff that address cyberbullying.

There is also guidance from government aimed at parents and carers on cyberbullying which provides a lot of useful advice.

Practical tips to support children

Video from Commons Sense Media gives 5 Ways to Stop Cyberbullying
Conversations to have

Power of words 

Discuss the impact that words can have online. Share these BBC own it short videos where children share stories about cyberbullying and online friends.

Being kind online

Highlight the need to be ‘kind online’ and support those who may be being picked on online.

Managing friendships

Talk about how to deal with disagreements with friends,both on and offline, in a safe way.

Importance of being ‘share aware’

Make sure they understand that anything they share or put out about themselves (even between friends) can be seen by everyone online. Nothing is really private once it is shared online.

Explain why people do it

Talk about reasons why people may bully others and how it makes people feel.

Power for good

Discuss the power they have to do the right thing when it comes to supporting other online. The ‘Stop, Speak, Support’ online code can help.

Talking to trusted person 

Encourage them to speak out if they experience cyberbullying or know someone else being bullied so they know how to get the right level of support.

See our age-specific cyberbullying conversation guides to make these conversations easier.

Things you can do

Review apps and platforms they use

Use our guides to set privacy settings on the apps, platforms, and devices they use to create a safer space for them to explore.

How to report reporting incidents

Teach them how to report or block people on the apps they use.

Be aware of what the school policy

Find out what support your child’s school will give you just in case you need it. Schools are told to ensure that their child protection policy includes:

  • procedures to minimise the risk of child-on-child abuse;
  • how allegations of child-on-child abuse will be recorded, investigated and dealt with;
  • clear processes as to how victims, perpetrators and any other child affected by child-on-child abuse will be supported.

Watch videos together

Share this video from BBC Own It about peer pressure with your child to make this issue more relatable and easy to understand.

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More to explore

Here are some other useful parent stories and children experiences of cyberbullying to give you more insights on the issue: