Online Safety Tips
Are they old enough?
Parents and carers play a key role in guiding their children as they first encounter the online world and begin to learn through exploration, play and social interaction.
When is your child old enough to take their first online steps and begin to explore on their own? How soon are they ready for smartphones and social media accounts?
It is a good idea to protect younger children from online risks such as encountering harmful content, contact with strangers or missing out on physical activity. But it is up to you to decide when and how they take these first steps, and how best to support them as they begin their online journey.
81% of parents with preschoolers say their children use the internet.
Of these parents, 94% report that their child was using the internet by the age of 4. This might be via a tablet or iPad (92%), a smartphone (85%) or a computer (83%). More digital parenting research: supervising preschoolers online and digital families.
Both the physical age of your child and their level of maturity and resilience can affect their ability to have positive experiences on social media. Each social media site and app has its own criteria for minimum age requirements. Most require users to be at least 13 years of age before they can register, although some sites are created especially for children under 13.
Generally, the 13-year age requirement is not necessarily because the site is unsafe for children to use but to comply with a US law — the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), which prevents collection and storage of personal information from children under 13 years of age.
How much time should my child spend online?
There is no magic figure. The right amount of time that children should spend online is debated, with recent research suggesting the evidence of harm relating to screen time is overstated. Choosing the right amount of screen time for your preschooler will depend on the individual needs of your child and your family.
When deciding how much time your preschooler should spend online, consider the following factors:
- your child’s age and their maturity level
- their individual learning needs
- your family’s routine
- your level of involvement and interaction with them while they are online
- the quality and nature of what they are doing online
It can be easy to focus only on the amount of time spent online, but the quality of the online media they are engaging with, and your involvement and interaction with them while they are using online media, is just as important.
For example, a five-year-old can get a lot out of spending 30 minutes creating an artwork on a screen together with you. An activity like this, involving the imaginative use of shape and colour, can help them to develop their fine motor and conversational skills.
Our guide to managing time online for parents and carers can help you work out a healthy balance across your child’s online and offline activities. It also includes the signs to watch out for if your child’s online activities may be having a negative impact on them.
How do I choose age-appropriate content?
Good-quality media can support your child’s learning, especially if it ties in with their interests or sparks their imagination.
The following sites can help you make informed decisions about your family’s entertainment choices:
- Check age ratings and consumer advice for apps and games on devices your children use via the App Store or Google Play. Visit the Australian Classification Board’s online database when reviewing movies and games.
- Raising Children Network has advice about choosing video games, online games and apps.
- NetAware (UK) offers a guide to popular social media apps, sites and games, including risks, age recommendations and safety tips.
- The Australian Council on the Children and the Media provides reviews of movies, apps and games, including gambling content advice, searchable by age and platform.
- Commonsense Media (US) offers a database of apps, games and websites searchable by age.
Is your child old enough for a smartphone?
A smartphone is about much more than making phone calls. It allows your child to spend time online using their own device, rather than a shared family tablet or computer. It literally puts the online world in their hands. For many parents and carers, giving a five year old their own smartphone may seem like it is a step too far. For others, it might offer them peace of mind and security to know they can keep in touch with their child — especially in an emergency.
The right age for your child will depend on their level of maturity and your family routine. It is worth asking yourself the following questions before handing over a digital device:
- Does my child have a good sense of responsibility?
- Are they able to stick to the rules?
- Do they show a good understanding of actions and consequences?
- Do they come to me or another trusted adult when they are distressed or if they encounter problems?
- What are the rules about when and where my child can use their smartphone? For example, will they only be able to use it while they are away from the house, and not in their bedroom at night.
For younger children it may be best to start with a mobile phone without internet access, and only introduce a smartphone when they demonstrate an appropriate level of maturity. There are a range of mobile devices available that allow you to control which tools or services your child has access to.
Some younger children might argue that they are ready for a smartphone, especially if their friends already have one. But it is worth holding out until you feel confident that your child is mature enough.
If you have a family online safety contract (see online safety basics), it would be a good idea to go through it carefully with your child in the context of the new responsibilities they are taking on with their own phone.
Source and further information: //www.esafety.gov.au/parents/skills-advice/are-they-old-enough
You can find more information about Online Safety here:
eSafety Commissioner Webpage: https://www.esafety.gov.au/
The eSafety Guide: Learn about the latest games, apps and social media, including how to protect your information and report harmful content – https://www.esafety.gov.au/key-issues/esafety-guide
Parent Resources: Downloadable resources to help you start the chat about online safety issues and strategies with your child. Resources include:
- Information sheets
- Audio files
- Family tech agreements
- COVID-19 advice