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Online safety advice for parents during lockdown

By Tony Neate on 01 Jun, 2020

As the country (and, indeed most of the world) continues to endure, weeks of lockdown, digital living has become the norm. With the vast majority still children off school and spending more time on screens than ever, what concerns do parents have with this new way of life on the internet?

Here, our CEO Tony Neate shares some of the questions our enquiry line has received from parents since lockdown began, and reveals our experts’ advice: 

Since lockdown, much to their dismay, my teenage girls haven’t been able to go to the shops and now seem to be constantly shopping online for clothes, make-up and other delights. What should they be wary of now that they’re shopping digitally?

For the majority of the time online shopping is perfectly safe, and many of us make hundreds of online transactions every day. But, it’s really important to watch out for ways we can be tricked by fraudsters so you don’t get caught out. Tell your daughters to always check they’re on a genuine website before purchasing – secure sites should start with ‘https’ and there will also be a padlock or unbroken key in the browser window.  Make sure they’ve taken themselves directly to the website and not clicked on an ad they’ve seen on social media, which could be fake. If using a marketplace, it’s also worth checking out the seller, look at the reviews and if possible always pay by credit card or pre-bought store card.

My older kids don’t have a credit card so they can’t protect themselves against fraudsters when paying online.

As it’s highly unusual to hold a credit card until you’re 18, you’re right, this does affect how much protection they have when making purchases online. Make sure they know the golden rule of never transferring money directly to a seller – always use a secure payment page. If you don’t, they may never see the goods … or money, again.

Now the children are having their lessons at home we are all sharing one device. Is there any advice on how to best manage this? My husband has been furloughed and we’re often searching up advice relating to finances that we won’t want the kids to see.

This is a common issue as we all switch to online living. During this time many children may be anxious about this unusual situation and there may be some searches you do online that you won’t want your children seeing – job searches or money worries for example, as you mention. During this time, especially if you are sharing devices, just make sure you constantly clear your search history so beady eyes don’t see any links or pop up ads relating to what you have been searching for that might make them unnecessarily worried.

If you have younger children it’s also a good idea to set the home screen to something relevant for them such as CBBC or CBeebies to avoid them seeing unexpected news updates on Coronavirus that you might not want them to see.

Should we limit screen time during this period?

Actually, during the lockdown, our advice is to be lenient with the amount of screen time the children are getting. Use the time to bring the benefits of the internet into your life and find activities that are relevant to your child’s age. Explore wild animals on nature reserves in Africa through Google Earth or take a trip to a virtual zoo, without having to spend a penny. Or take a look at history by virtually visiting sites such as Pompeii.

Older kids won’t be seeing their friends at school, so they’ll be using the screen to socialise too. Make sure their settings for social media are appropriate for their age and that they only post images and content of themselves that they’d be happy for their Nan to see!  Their digital footprint becomes more important the older they become – when they start applying for college, uni and even jobs.   

How can I tell if a child is being cyberbullied?

Social interaction is really important while the children are away from school, and much of this will take place online while we’re at home. It can be hard to tell if one of their friends is telling a joke or not, or if they accidentally feel excluded. It’s important to make sure your children know the importance of including all their friends and contemporaries as much as they can and if they are worried that someone is feeling upset, to let someone in the house that they trust know so it can be addressed. Social interaction is vital but it’s key that it’s a positive experience, not a negative one.

It’s a worrying time for many of us whether its money concerns or simply the uncertainty of the whole Coronavirus situation. What are the best free apps that might help with my children’s mental health?

There are some really good apps for children to help them share their feelings and manage their mental health and most are free to use. Created by Childline, ‘For Me’ is popular or ‘Own it’ - that has been created by the BBC - helps kids recognise their feelings by keeping notes on their emotions and signposting them to sites to help them, depending on their age and how they are feeling. 

Is TikTok safe for my children to use?

TikTok has developed some great ways to involve the whole family, which is the perfect way to see how it is used in action and to enjoy some fun time while the kids are at home. Why not use TikTok as a family and take part in some of the challenges? It shouldn’t cost a penny.

What are your thoughts on the safety of YouTube?

YouTube is often used by members of the whole family – whether it’s Dad looking to fix a tap to save money on a plumber or the teenager checking out the latest Lewis Capaldi video. Make sure the parental settings on any communal device are set appropriately for the children in the house. As they get older review the settings and agree a relevant band. It’s always best to be open to avoid sneakiness and anyone disabling the parental guidance without you knowing.

My boys are really into gaming. They play with their friends and, with limited access outside, it’s a chance for them to unwind when they’ve finished their school ork. But I am worried about the potential dangers it can bring. Help!

You’re right, at the moment life is limited and if it means spending some time with their friends gaming can be a nice break for them. It’s important to educate them about the dangers of revealing private information such as their email address, home address or financial details. Try and encourage them to only play with children they know in real life, explain that you understand the excitement of playing against lots of other people online but it’s important that if they are going to do this then they stay on the game and don’t move into any private or otherwise chat rooms – you never know if a stranger’s motives are dishonourable.

Check age ratings for any games played and never give your child credit card details for extras – this can be very costly!   And why not join in with their games from time to time. You can see who they are interacting with and use the opportunity to spend some fun time with them too.  If they are old enough to have spending money then load this onto a pre-paid card and let them use this to buy gaming in-house purchases – they will soon learn to value money.

It’s worth sitting down together and looking at what the game/ app has to offer and what may be the downside of playing. Set up the settings together so they understand why you have put some restrictions and not others.  If you don’t know much about what they want to download, give yourself a bit of time and research the game / app so that you are able to help them understand your worries and concerns. They may surprise you and say that they understand all that, but if this or that happens then I will show you and that I do know how to report things that I am not happy about.

Where can I find straightforward advice about being safe online?

There is some great advice on a range of online safety issues and concerns at You can also follow us on social media @getsafeonline where you will find details of a series of Thursday Facebook Live sessions that have been scheduled for you to hear the latest online safety advice and have the opportunity to ask questions directly to the experts themselves. Or if you have a specific question during this time, email us at [email protected]

Tony Neate is the Chief Executive of Get Safe Online