Online safety

How to talk to parents about their children’s online safety

Amid startling new data on parents’ attitudes to social media, Mubina Asaria explains why and how schools must work with families to keep children safe

Amid startling new data on parents’ attitudes to social media, Mubina Asaria explains why and how schools must work with families to keep children safe

14 Nov 2023, 5:00

Some startling facts about online safety to fix your attention:

  • A quarter of the 17 per cent of three-to-four-year-olds who have their own mobile phone use WhatsApp
  • Children aged three to seven typically use WhatsApp and FaceTime for sending messages or making calls
  • The majority of eight-to-eleven-year-olds have profiles on TikTok, followed by WhatsApp, YouTube and Snapchat.
  • By 11 to 12 years old, 97 per cent of children have their own social media profile, with almost universal rates of mobile phone ownership as children transition to secondary school.

Keeping children safe online is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week concern. Engaging with parents about online safety has never been so crucial, but many parents would prefer to ‘leave it to the experts.

School mobile phone bans may or may not be part of the solution, but they can only be the start of one. With seven-to-16-year-olds spending an average of four hours a day online, parents are key to keeping their children safe while schools are key to informing parents and carers about the latest risks and harms. Ultimately, empowering parents to keep their children safe online comes down to communication.

Ofcom’s Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes 2023 report provides some alarming statistics. For example, parents may be familiar with the apps their children are using but many are unaware of the time spent on them. The report reveals that although 84 per cent of parents know about age restrictions, only 37 per cent realise the minimum age to access social media is 13. 

Most parents believe that apps like Snapchat are just fun, but as with all apps – especially those with disappearing messages – there can be a far darker more dangerous side, as highlighted in Revealing Reality’s latest report – ‘Anti-social media: What some vulnerable children are seeing on SnapChat’.

The best way is to adopt a ‘drip-feed’ approach

Figures show parental supervision typically declines as children get older, but this is when they are actually at greater risk of online harm. Less than half of parents directly supervise their child’s activity between the ages of five and seven, with this figure declining as they reach transition.

Online safety is already on the curriculum, but it’s crucial given these numbers that parents are empowered to play an active role in keeping their children safe. Key to this is providing them with clear information, strategies and easily accessible resources that will complement what children are learning.

The best way is to avoid information overwhelm and to adopt a ‘drip-feed’ approach – run pupil-led presentations, provide online safety tips in newsletters or creatively piggy-back off other events such as parent evenings or coffee mornings to share reminders and updates.

Highlighting the importance of parental controls and settings can help them make informed decisions about what their children can access. And with Ofcom reporting that only 14 per cent of children have used the flagging function to report threatening or inappropriate material, remind parents to talk to their children about the reporting channels available to them, whether online, by talking to them or approaching a trusted adult in school.

Children talk and are most likely to talk to their parents. Working collaboratively and creatively to engage parents as part of a whole-school approach will help protect and empower young people so they can benefit from the opportunities afforded by technology safely.

LGfL’s ParentSafe site is designed to support staff-led presentations and for signposting to parents. It features a wide range of videos, the latest statistics and activities such as story-time ideas, a digital family agreement, conversation starters and tips to reinforce key safety messages and establish shared expectations.

Based on the Ofcom report, My child’s life online – parent discussion activities using Ofcom statistics is aready-to-use PowerPoint tailored for parent information sessions and online safety workshops. Other useful links and resources can be found on CEOP Education, Common Sense Media, Internet Matters and the NSPCC.

With a mental health crisis affecting so many children, access to social media is a growing concern. Working with families to avoid its potential harms must be a key plank in our efforts to improve children’s wellbeing.  

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