Safer Internet Day 2020: Google and Netsafe's top tips for keeping kids safe online

Google and Netsafe share top safety tips for Safer Internet Day 2020.
Safer Internet Day (SID) is described as a "landmark event in the online safety calendar". Photo credit: Getty

My daughter is asking for some "me time", as she so sweetly puts it. What she really means is ''pass your iPad, mum, I need a YouTube fix."

She's not yet at the age where she's allowed on social media, but she's increasingly deft at manipulating my tablet.

I recently discovered this to my horror when YouTube Kids had been replaced with a general search for a popular dance video, which eventually led to scenes totally inappropriate for a primary schooler's eyes.

For those with older kids online, there's even more to contend with such as cyberbullying, grooming, violence and the promotion of unhealthy body images, to name just a few.

It's estimated that one in three internet users is a child. Ahead of Safer Internet Day next week, Netsafe and Google have issued a timely reminder for parents.

They say that just as we teach our kids how to drive before handing them the keys to a car, we need to teach them the basics of online safety before handing them a device.

"A lot of parents feel that the child is the digital expert, the digital native, that they don't feel empowered to teach them,'' says Lucian Teo, trust and safety outreach manager at Google Asia Pacific.

"We want to reinstitute that parents play a big role in how children use technology... that as digital immigrants, we have a huge responsibility of bringing the old world into the new world."

Here are the top things Netsafe and Google recommend that we teach our kids to stay safe online.

Be smart

The advice 'do not talk to strangers' applies to the internet as well. We need to teach our kids what is appropriate to share online with only people whom they trust. Encourage thoughtful sharing by treating online communication like face-to-face chats. If it isn't right to say, it isn't right to post. 

Be alert

Don't trust everything you see online and always think before you click. Explain to them that sometimes people can take on a false identity to trick them into sharing personal information and that promises about winning or getting something for free are common methods used by scammers.

Be strong

Personal privacy and security are just as important online as they are offline. Safeguarding valuable information helps kids avoid damaging their devices, reputations and relationships. Netsafe and Google recommend to steer clear of the obvious, such as birthdays and names, when creating passwords and to use different passwords for multiple sites.A password manager can be very helpful. Lots of platforms and services have improved the tools used to manage privacy and safety settings in recent years, so parents are urged to take a fresh look at what's available and do an online privacy checkup.

Be kind

The internet is a powerful amplifier that can be used to spread positivity or negativity. Social media is a big part of life for many children and teens and that isn't going to change. We can help teach them the right behaviour, the concept of 'treating others as you would like to be treated' as a guide to their actions online, creating positive impact for others and disempowering bullying behaviour.

Be brave

Kids should feel comfortable talking to a trusted adult when they come across something questionable and adults can support this behaviour by fostering open communication at home in the classroom. Once our children have earned their 'licence' for the web, it's also helpful to lay down some digital ground rules as they begin to explore. Also, Android and Chromebook devices can use the Google Family Link app, while Apple offers similar parental control features and settings.

More useful tips and tricks for parents

  • When giving a child their first mobile device, there must be some rules attached. Teo suggests never offering the device as a gift or reward for getting good grades. Instead, always loan the device, so you still get to set rules around its usage
  • Use a timer to control usage. It's easy to let 20 minutes turn into an hour if the household is distracted
  • Use YouTube on the family TV, not a device, and curate the feeds yourself so that you know what the children are watching is appropriate
  • Get older kids to teach younger kids about online safety as well as you having conversations. They'll be learning at the same time
  • Start an online safety conversation with older kids by asking them how they'd advise their friends in different situations

"The idea is to have a proactive conversation and one of the easy ways to do that is to talk to them about somebody else," said Martin Cocker, CEO of Netsafe. 

"What would your friend do if they got into this position? What would you advise them? This allows parents to identify the gaps in their children's knowledge which they can then use as the basis for their conversation."

More advice includes turning kids from consumers into creators, taking them away from simply watching video for hours on end to learning how to make it, what to put into it, what's safe to include and so forth.

"You can see their brains fire up. They start to get excited," said Teo.

"Not just about the technology but the content that goes behind it and that's where the real learning starts."

The Netsafe website is a mine of information for parents including a downloadable toolkit which offers practical tips and tricks for how to talk to children about online safety. Google also has a safety centre which offers plenty of advice.

What to do if something goes wrong?

Netsafe is a really good place to start. And don't delay - it's easier to tackle an immediate issue than a historical problem. Visit the website, email, or contact 0508 NETSAFE, a free, confidential helpline service that's open seven days a week.