Your child has grown up surrounded by technology both at home and at school. Their friends, family, teachers and the key adults in their life, like you, are using the internet, TVs, mobile phones, computers and tablets daily, and technology is certainly a big part of their everyday life.
A 2023 report from Ofcom showed that 55% of 8-11 year olds own their own smart phone, and those who didn’t still often had access to some form of internet device.
Children are naturally curious and want to explore so may want to spend lots of time on their phones, watching videos and playing games!
They know the internet allows them to do fun things like play, connect, learn, and create. At this age, they may want more access to the internet, whilst you may feel unsure.
Do not worry, many parents feel the same way. There is a lot of information out there about children and the internet and it can be confusing to separate what’s true from what’s not.
We spoke to parents of 6-12 year olds who told us about the reasons their children love the internet, and also about the things which caused them headaches about their children and their internet use.
Why children love the internet
Number one on the list of things that their children loved about the internet was playing online games. They find it fun, challenging, and exciting.
Online games can be a way of connecting with friends, family, and other children from school or other players from all around the world in some games.
Learning new stuff
The internet allows children to learn new skills and knowledge about the world such as learning new dance crazes, the words to their favourite songs, creating videos and images as well as doing schoolwork.
At a young age, children can enjoy video calling, instant messaging and sending photos, helping them to stay connected with their friends and family no matter what the distance.
For some children, the internet is a way of finding out information, advice and help on topics that they don’t feel able to talk to an adult about.
This might be about a problem at home or at school for example bullying. It can help them understand their rights and how to identify adults who can help.
The headaches for parents
"Are they ready for their own device?"
What we learnt from parents is that every family is different. There was no general agreement on how old a child should be before they are ‘ready to have their own device’.
Deciding when your child is ready for their own device can be tough. We discovered that some parents had practical concerns about the cost of the device or were worried that their child would lose or break it.
Some felt that their child was ‘ready’ as they approached secondary school and were growing in independence.
Others thought it was more important to understand what children could do on a device and try and predict possible issues.
There were no right answers, but certainly, parents made decisions based on knowing their child best.
"It’s always on."
Parents were worried about how much time their children spent online and recognised it ‘was always on’.
Most of the parents of the younger children admitted that they had told their children that the battery had worn out or the device was broken just in order to get the child to put the device away, and for the parents with older children this trick was no longer working!
"I can’t control it 24/7."
Parents said that it was just not realistic to control or monitor their child’s internet use 24/7. The apps and platforms their children were using were confusing and complicated and things like privacy settings all worked differently.
Parents also gave examples of being sat in the same room as their child whilst they were using a device only for something unexpected to happen. These included contact by an unwanted person, pop-ups that showed explicit images, cyber-bullying and sexual messages sent by adults.
Child safety and the internet
Online abuse and exploitation are real risks and even adults can fall victim to scams and fraud. It’s difficult to predict when harm might happen online and children may not realise it's happening until much later.
When children do realise something is wrong, they may feel like it’s their fault and try to keep it secret. Your child may do this out of fear that they will be blamed, get into trouble, or lose their device.
Talking with your child about their online life is important. It's important for your child to know that they can talk to someone they trust like you or a teacher if something doesn’t feel right online. They should never feel like it's their fault and should know that there are people who want to help and keep them safe.
Keep it part of your daily conversations and let them know they can come to you if something worries them. Show interest in their online activities, try joining in their games and be there to listen and support them.
You can find further support and information at the bottom of this page.
Just keep talking
Children have told us that having conversations about their online life is important. Keeping it part of the day-to-day things, you talk to your child about is often better than having just one ‘Big Talk’ about the internet.
Letting children know that you are interested and want to support their online life is a way of:
- Finding out what is going on, what they are enjoying, seeing, and experiencing online.
- Understanding what they feel funny about, not quite right or concerned about.
- Letting them know that they can talk to you and won’t be blamed if something has upset or worried them online.
It can also help your child to know that they can talk to other adults too – not just you. Are there other parents, relatives, or friends in your network you can encourage to listen to your child about their online life?
Tips on talking about online life
Try joining in
Find out about the games that your child enjoys, join in if you can and let them show you how to play.
Talk about feelings
Exposure to social media for example can lead to comparisons and unrealistic standards, affecting children's self-esteem. If your child has a problem online, helping them understand and talk about their feelings can help you know what's going on.
Let them know you want to help
Remind your child that they can talk to you about anything which is difficult online. Filters, blocks, and privacy settings don’t stop everything so try to keep the conversations going.
Realise your reactions are normal
If your child tells you something that worries you, or if you see something concerning on your child’s device, it’s normal to have various reactions. You might feel angry with yourself, or your child and you may want to take their device away which can lead to arguments.
These reactions are all normal and stem from your desire to protect your child and make them safe. But remember, it isn’t your fault, and you are not to blame. Be kind to yourself in these situations.
If trying to deal with a difficult subject and not sure how to respond, always let your child know that they are not in trouble, what has happened is not their fault and reassure them that you can work anything out together.
- Do not worry about talking to other parents. They are probably experiencing similar concerns.
- You can also find further support ideas at the bottom of this page.
- You do not need to be an expert in every online platform or app as your child spends more time online.
- The most important thing is to maintain a strong relationship with your child and have open conversations to guide them through the online world.
- You can also watch our "Connected Families" video series which were created by Barnardo’s Core Priority Programmes for Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation with the help of Popla Media.
This series of short videos highlight the varying types of online harm children can be in danger of being exposed to and the importance of parents having conversations around safety online.
They are also a call on tech companies to better support parents to supervise what their children access.
National Online Safety: a comprehensive guide on managing screen time and promoting online safety for children.
UK Safer Internet Centre: advice on recognising and dealing with cyberbullying.
Childnet: information and guidance on a range of online safety topics.
If you are worried about online abuse or the way someone has been communicating with your child online, you can report it to CEOP Safety Centre Child Exploitation and Online Protection.