Keeping your children safe online

Our tips and resources for parents and carers

Keeping girls safe is one of our biggest priorities at Girlguiding.  

But we know that as a parent or a carer, there’s always something new to be thinking about when it comes to online safety. We’ve collected best practice tips and advice from other organisations, practical suggestions for how to talk to your kids, guides for social media platforms, and a quiz to help you navigate some of the most common issues when it comes to online safety.  

Our top tips 

1 ) Use strong passwords 

We all know that it's important to use passwords to keep ourselves and our information safe online, but it helps keep your children safe too. You should have strong passwords not only for all your devices (such as phones, iPads, and laptops), but also for all apps that have an online function, including games. And of course, when your child has access to their own devices or accounts, they need to know how to create strong passwords too.  

You can also consider setting up two-factor authentication on various apps, or online games that your child likes to play. Two-factor authentication adds another step to the login process, by sending a unique code that has to be entered in addition to a password. You can use this either to prevent your child from accessing particular apps, or to prevent them from making any purchases on gaming websites without your permission.  

Resources 

  • Net Aware have collected lots of information to help you set up strong passwords, and help your children do the same.  
  • Thinkuknow, from the National Crime Agency, have made a Cyber Security Guide for parents and carers. They've also made an activity sheet to help you explain the importance of passwords to your children.  

2) Use parental controls 

Once your child is old enough to access devices on their own, parental controls are a really important resource to use. You can set up parental controls not just on individual apps, such as YouTube or Instagram, but also on your devices, your Wifi network, and your mobile phone network. Don't forget about apps on TVs, too! All of these will help you monitor the content that your child is able to access online.  

Resources 

  • Internet Matters have made step by step guides to help you set up parental controls across all your devices and apps. They include guides for different smart phones, entertainment and search engines, broadband and mobile networks, social media, and gaming consoles. Check out the list and see if you’ve missed anything!  
  • Childnet have made guides to safety tools on social networks and parental controls offered by home internet providers 
  • The UK Safer Internet Centre have put together social media guides to help you learn more about the safety features that are available on specific social media networks, such as Snapchat, Whatsapp and Instagram.  

3) Have open and honest discussions 

We know that children today are accessing online content from a very young age. This is for lots of reasons, and can be a very positive thing. But because children are getting online from when they’re quite young, it’s important to have open and honest discussions about safety and privacy regularly from an early age.  

How you approach this will depend on you and your child. The important thing is to make sure that the boundaries and rules that you set are consistent, and that your child understands them. As they get older, you can talk about more why these rules exist. At that point, you can start to have more of a discussion about what the right balance is between staying safe, and fully engaging with what the online world has to offer.  

Resources 

  • O2 have a range of videos and tips to help you start conversations about online safety with children.  
  • Checkout Childnet’s conversation starter ideas 
  • The NSPCC have lots of information to help you talk about online safety, including webinars and reviews of different apps and platforms.  
  • The Internet Watch Foundation have made a conversation framework to help guide you through conversations about online sexual abuse.  

4) Make mental health a top priority  

We know that lots of teenagers and children find that being online has an impact on their mental health. They might be feeling under pressure to look ‘perfect’ on social media, or feel as though their friends are living more fun, exciting lives than they are. Setting boundaries on screen time from a young age is a useful tool. As they get older, having the habit of limiting their screentime will help children set down the screens when they need to, and prioritise spending time with people offline.  

It also helps to talk to your child regularly about social media, and how it makes them feel.  

Resources 

  • The Safe to Net app uses artificial intelligence to help safeguard children online and offers them wellbeing support, without compromising their privacy.  
  • The Mental Health Foundation have made a guide on how to talk to children about healthy internet use.  

5) Create online agreements that the whole family sticks to 

It’s much easier to set rules for children when they know that you’re following them as well! As children get older, having boundaries around time spent online can become much more collaborative. And, let’s be honest, we can all benefit from sticking to healthy habits around screen time, privacy and safety, no matter how old we are! Working together to create agreements for the whole family is a great way to help children understand the need for online safety, and stick to the rules.  

Resources 

6) Report online incidents wherever necessary  

It’s important to report negative online incidents or harassment when they happen. Who you report to will depend on what the incident is, but it is often a good idea to let your child’s school know if your child is facing problems with harassment or bullying. They will be able to give you advice and support, and help you decide on the best action to take. Girlguiding unit leaders can also support you in this way. They will liaise with the Girlguiding Safeguarding team, who can offer advice and support. 

You can also report online issues to social media platforms.  

Resources 

  • Internet Matters have guides to help you report issues in lots of different circumstances.  
  • The Safer Internet Centre run a specific website to help everyone report harmful content online.  

Test your online safety knowledge! 

We asked some of our volunteers to share examples of times when families have dealt with online safety issues. We put together some scenarios to help you think about what actions you can take to keep children safe.

Scenario 1

Rainbow’s (R) mother uses social media to chat to friends, and is a member of lots of different online groups so that she can follow her interests.  

Her phone is not password protected. One day, while R's mother is busy elsewhere, R, aged 6, picks up her mum's phone and scrolls through her Facebook app, which is still open. She’s able to see lots of comments in the groups, including a few about a celebrity that she doesn’t understand. The comments are definitely for grown up’s eyes only, and for the next few days R asks lots of inappropriate questions at school and at home.  

Question:

Which of these measures could you take to prevent this from happening? 

  1. Password protect your phone
  2. Set up two-factor authentication
  3. Set screen time limits on your social media apps

  • Password protect your phone  
  • Set up 2-factor authentication  

Although screen time limits are a great check and mental health prompt, they can be ignored by phone users. Having a strong password and setting up 2-factor authentication is the best way to ensure that only you can access your accounts. To be extra secure, you can also log out of your social media apps after you've finished using them! 

Scenario 2

Brownie (B), aged 9, sometimes uses her parents' I-pad to play games. One of B’s favourite games is Among Us, which she can play online with her friends. They think the game is better with more people playing, so they start to play public games, and chat with other players online using the game’s in-built chat function.  

Question

How can B’s parents make sure that she stays safe online while having fun with her friends?  

  1. Ban her from playing games online
  2. Schedule time limits for play sessions on the Ipad
  3. Use specific in-game parental controls

  • Use specific in-game parental controls

While banning your children from playing online games might seem like an easy solution, it might make your child more likely to be online in secret, where you can’t monitor what they’re accessing. It’s best to talk regularly to your child about what they’re up to online, make them aware of the potential risks of what they’re doing, and establish some ground rules, such as only playing online games privately with people they know. Scheduling time limits is a great way to provide structure, but won’t prevent them from chatting with strangers in the time that they do spend online.  

Many games have specific measures that can be taken to protect your child while playing, but most of these are not on by default. When your child downloads a new game or app, it is always worth investigating what security and safety measures are available. In this scenario, Among Us has a censor that prevents specific words from being typed in the chat function. Ensuring that your child’s age is entered correctly will also limit them from accessing certain features of the game.   

Scenario 3

Guide (G), aged 13, is in a snapchat group with some other Guides. She starts to feel that everyone else’s life looks better than hers – more fun activities, better clothes. Her parents notice that she is much quieter than usual and didn’t seem herself. 

Question:

How can G’s parents help her to feel better?  

  1. Tell her to delete her social media accounts
  2. Set social media time limits together
  3. Encourage face-to-face contact with friends

  • Set social media limits together
  • Encourage face-to-face contact with friends

Talking honestly and openly about social media is the best way to understand the challenges your child may be facing with their mental health. Once your child is old enough to use social media apps for themselves, it’s important to work together with them to set rules that they understand and agree with. For many children, social media is a huge part of their life, and helps them make connections with friends. Although deleting their profiles is always an option, your child may not find it to be a helpful suggestion, as it could leave them feeling even more isolated. 

Instead, suggest time limits and a structure to help them manage their use of social media, and avoid endless scrolling. Remind them that what they see online doesn’t always reflect reality, and do what you can to encourage face-to-face meetings with their friends when you can. Feeling included offline is likely to help your child feel less anxious, self-conscious or isolated when online.  

Scenario 4

Ranger (A), aged 15, sent a nude picture of herself to a boy at school. This was then circulated around a number of other young people in the school and in her Ranger group. Some other Rangers had made some unkind comments about her sexual activity online and at her meetings. However, another Ranger (B), saw this happening and reported it to her parents.

Question:

What should B's parents do in that situation? 

  1. Tell the Ranger unit leader about the incident
  2. Inform A's parents about the incident 
  3. Report the incident to the police

Potentially, all of the above. 

In this situation, coming to the Ranger unit leader is a good idea, as they can contact the Girlguiding Safeguarding team. They will advise on next steps and make sure the Ranger who is a victim is also supported.

They will ensure that parents are informed if appropriate and also will consider if the police should be informed. Sharing  nude images of under 18s is an illegal offence and should be treated extremely seriously. 

If a similar incident happens at your child's school, then the same principle applies. The school will also be able to advise on next steps, offer support, and contact the police if necessary. 

If your child ever makes you aware of this kind of situation, whether it's about themselves, a friend, or someone they know, make sure that you talk to them about it. Although it can be a difficult or uncomfortable conversation to have, you need to make sure that your child feels supported to deal with the situation, even if they are not a victim themselves.

Remember that there are lots of resources out there to help you structure these conversations, and cover the important points.