Thursday, 18 January 2018
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Summer 2017

In the second of our series of articles to help parents keep children safe online this summer, Margaret Gallagher, Campaigns Manager at NSPCC NI, says talking about internet safety should be as natural as asking them what they got up to at school...

Margaret talks about the subject on a daily basis and runs workshops for parents on speaking to their children about social media, keeping safe online, and setting parental controls. She keeps up to speed with ongoing developments in the ever-changing online world so for this issue we’ve been chatting to her to find out about this often challenging subject and getting some useful tips to support parents and carers in understanding how their children use the internet.

Margaret’s advice is clear. She says: “It’s vital for parents to have regular conversations over the years with their child to discuss what websites and apps are appropriate for their age group. You can explain to them that you understand the internet is a great place to be and you want to help them enjoy it, but you also want to make sure that they are safe. Emphasise the importance of being open and honest, not keeping secrets, and to chat to you if they see anything that is worrying them, examples of which could include inappropriate, violent or sexual content, or anything which promotes risky behaviors. It is also a good idea when chatting to your child to reassure them that you won’t overreact about anything they tell you – you just want to look out for them.

“A good place to start when having a conversation with your child is to explore with them what they are doing online. Try asking them what they think is okay for children of different ages – that way, they’ll feel involved in the decision making about what sites and apps are suitable for them. However, be aware that your child might have friends who use apps and visit sites that you’ve decided aren’t appropriate. Be ready for this and discuss your views, recognising that they might not agree with you, but establishing that you are their parent and will need to make the right choice for them and your family.”

Margaret adds: “It’s really important to be specific about what they are sharing online. Talk to your child about what “personal information” is – such as email addresses, full names, phone numbers and school names – and why it matters. Explain some simple ways to protect their privacy. For example, making sure their settings are private, avoiding usernames that include full names, birthdays or locations that give away too much personal information. It’s also worth discussing images and photographs to help your child understand how these can give people a sense of your personality and that sharing or commenting on certain types of images or posts can give the wrong impression.

“Explain that it isn’t always easy to identify someone online, and that people aren’t always who they say they are so it’s really important not to share personal information. If it’s someone who genuinely knows your child, they shouldn’t need to ask for that personal information online. Above all, reiterate the point that if they’re in any doubt about who they are in contact with, they should talk to you first.”

Margaret uses the NSPCC Net Aware web resource in much of her work and parents can find a world of support and information on it. She states: “Rather than trying to work out which app is trending, or hearing second hand which site poses a risk, Net Aware can give you those tools in online safety with in-depth information about the top apps around at the minute, including age restrictions and risks associated with each one. It can also help you find information such as how to block someone and how to keep personal details private, as well as where to find reporting functions, so that you can talk to your child about the best way to use them.”

Additionally, as part of a joint initiative between NSPCC and 02, parents can access free online safety advice at 02 shops across Northern Ireland, from a specially trained advisor known as an 02 Guru. During the pre-booked session, the NSPCC-trained 02 Guru can explain how to set up parental controls on phones, tablets and PCs as well as how to make devices safer for a child to use.

Margaret concludes: “We also know that, despite all our best efforts, some children may not be ready to talk to their parents about the issues they face online. Our Childline service provides a safe and confidential place for children if they need help and is open 24 hours a day on Tel: 0800 1111 or at

“Our free adult helpline also provides adults with a place they can get advice and support, share their concerns about a child or get general information about child protection, including online safety. Adults can also contact the helpline 24 hours a day on 0808 800 5000.”

Net Aware is available at

Appointments for O2 Gurus can be booked in advance at O2DeskStoreLocator

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