Five tips from five NSPCC experts

Having conversations about safety online can sometimes be challenging, especially when they don’t go as you expect. It might be that during one of these conversations your child realises that something they’ve experienced isn’t quite right. Perhaps you want to talk to them about something that’s worrying you. Or maybe you’re struggling to get your child to talk about their online activity.

Whatever the situation, the NSPCC has advice to help. We want you to feel confident having tricky conversations, so we’ve asked experts from across the NSPCC to share their top five pieces of advice.

Remember, the best way to help keep your child safe online is to encourage them to talk openly about their experiences and let them know you are there to help them.

Tip number 1

Look out for signs something might be wrong

Helen Westerman NSPCC Local Campaigns Manager

Sometimes you might have concerns about what your child is doing online or that they have experienced something upsetting. If this happens, it is always best to trust your instincts and to have a conversation with them about it. Even if it turns out that nothing is wrong, it is good for your child to know that you are prepared to have tricky conversations with them.

If you’re not sure whether something is wrong, consider whether you have seen your child display any of the following:

  • Either seeming distant, angry or upset
  • Or the opposite, seeming extremely happy and confident
  • Becoming withdrawn or spending more time on their own
  • Spending noticeably more (or less) time online
  • Becoming secretive (with devices and profiles for example)
  • Having lots of new contacts
  • Unexplained virtual gifts (for example, new outfits or items in a game)

These signs do not necessarily mean there is a problem. However, they are potential flags that your child may have experienced or be experiencing something worrying online. The best thing to do is always take the time to have this conversation and let your child know you’re listening.

Tip number 2

Stay calm during difficult conversations

Sarah Rutty NSPCC Child Safety Online Expert

If your child reveals that they have had an upsetting experience online, it is really important to stay calm. The fact that they have told you is positive, and you want to encourage them to keep talking and to be honest with you so that you can help.

You will understandably be concerned and may have lots of strong emotions but how you react to your child in the moment is very important. Your reaction to what your child is telling you now teaches them how you might react in similar situations. If you react strongly, for example with anger, they may be more reluctant to come to you with concerns in future.

Make sure you check that your child is safe and make it clear that you are ready to listen to them. If you think you are going to struggle to stay calm, reassure your child that they have done the right thing by telling you and take a moment to gather your thoughts before continuing with the conversation.

Even if your child reveals that they have broken your rules about being online, the most important thing is that they have told you about a problem and now you can help them to deal with it. You can address the issue of rule-breaking and family agreements at another time. We understand that you might feel frustrated by your child’s behaviour but your priority in this conversation
is listening to what has happened. We hear through Childline of cases where children have broken their family rules about being online, experienced something which worries them and then felt too scared of the consequences to tell someone. You want to make sure that your child always feels able to come to you with their concerns.

Tip number 3

Get the environment right

Danielle Harris Childline Team Manager

Finding the right space for difficult conversations is really important. A simple change of time or place can make the difference when trying to get your child to open up about their online experiences.

Where possible, try to find the right time to talk to your child. If they have just told you they are worried about something, it is important that you make yourself available for them in that moment. Allow them time to talk about their concerns and try not to fill in any gaps or interrupt them. Reassure them that they have done the right thing in talking to you and tell them that that you want to help them so that they feel supported.

If you want to approach a difficult topic with your child, pick a time when they are relaxed and in an environment where they feel comfortable. This will help them to stay calm and make it easier for you both to listen and talk openly with one another. Give them time to think about what’s being discussed and allow them to respond honestly, without blame or judgement.

It’s really important that your child has lots of different places they can go for support. Make sure you tell your child about Childline and let them know they can call 0800 1111 or visit the website Get Support | Childline.

Tip number 4

Help your child to open

Josie Jackson Social Worker and Project Development Manager

Often young people will also find it difficult to have conversations about their online activity, especially if something unpleasant has happened or they have done something online which makes them concerned. You know your child best so use this knowledge to help you decide which approach to take.

If your child is struggling to open up, it could be helpful to agree on a set time to have the conversation so that they know when it is going to happen. This can help them to feel more prepared and give you both time to think about ways to discuss the issue.

Your child might find it easier to have a conversation when you are not face to face. Talking while doing an activity, such as cooking dinner or while you are in the car, can help to make the conversation feel less highly pressured. You might even find that having the conversation over text message makes it easier for your child to open up. However, make sure that they are in a safe, contained environment where you can respond to offer physical and additional emotional reassurances,if needed.

Make sure you have accurate information going into a difficult conversation. Don’t make assumptions about what your child has been doing and if you are unsure, ask them open questions to help establish the facts.For example, ‘can you tell me what happened?’ or ‘how did that make you feel?’.

It is really important to react calmly if your child tells you about something worrying that has happened online, but sometimes we don’t. If you have reacted in a way which, on reflection, wasn’t the ideal way to respond to what your child has told you, make sure you acknowledge that you made a mistake and reassure them that you will try to remain calm and listen.

Tip number 5

Know where to get help

Leanne Mcleish NSPCC Helpline Manager

We regularly hear from adults who are worried about a child’s safety online and we are here to help. Often, we get asked about the safety of the latest games and apps, how to have conversations about safety online and what to do if you have a concern about a child.
If you have a concern about your child or need advice, we have lots of ways we can help at the NSPCC. For more information about talking to your child about online safety, you can visit our online safety hub. Here we have a parent guide which gives further advice on how to have these conversations: Teaching Your Child about Internet & Online Safety | NSPCC. There arealso parent guides on a range of online topics and ablog where you can learn about current apps andonline issues.

If you are concerned about something your child has told you, you can visit our page about Reporting online safety concerns or call our Helpline where you can speak to one of our Child Protection Specialists. We will be able to give you further support and guidance about what to do next. You can call us on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk. It’s free to contact us and you don’t have to say who you are.

Childline has lots of fantastic resources designed for children that can help them with a range of online issues. Encourage your child to visit the online safety pages here: Online and mobile safety | Childline. If they are worried about something, they can always call Childline on 0800 1111 or email/chat with a counsellor: Get Support | Childline.

We hope you find these tips helpful.If the conversation becomes more challenging, remember:

  • If your child is using technical terms that you don’t understand, ask them to explain what these mean or to show you how things work.
  • Don’t focus on the negative consequences of your child’s actions. Instead, focus on listening to them and how you can help.
  • Get support for yourself from other adults when having these conversations, for example from other parents, friends or your child’s school.