How to support your child to play confidently online

This Safer Internet Day, 9 February 2021, eSafety will launch our newest resources for our youngest Australians – an original picture book and song.

Swoosh, Glide and Rule Number 5 tells the story of two young sugar glider possums who are developing good online safety habits as they have fun experiences with digital technology. My Family Rules by Lah-Lah reinforces the messaging through song.

The picture book and song are part of eSafety’s Early Years program designed to help parents, carers and educators build children’s confidence to play safely online. The program is based on four key messages: Be safe, Be kind, Ask for help and Make good choices. These new resources focus on the Ask for help message.

If you have young children in your life you may be wondering why we have made Ask for help a key message in the early years. Young children are typically very good at asking for help – ‘Mum!’ or ‘Dad!’ can be the soundtrack of our lives when they are under 5. As children grow, we usually encourage their independence by teaching them to have a go at solving problems before they ask for help, but we know this is not best for them in the context of online safety. We want them to go to a trusted adult straight away with problems. Having the confidence to do that actually empowers children to expect safety online in the early years and beyond.

In an eSafety survey young people aged between 8 and 17 years told us that when they had negative experiences online, only 55% asked for help from their parents. Only 24% asked for help through their school, a social media platform or the police. We can support children to improve help-seeking habits as they grow older by encouraging their natural behaviour to Ask for help from early childhood.

When will children need help online?

You know your child best. Before they reach school age they may need help with anything from setting up a game on their device to working out why their favourite program stopped playing. Thankfully, online safety incidents are rare for young children who are supervised while using devices, but it’s important to be aware of the risks.

They could be contacted by someone they don’t know

One of the first things young children do on a device is join in video calls with family or friends, so they are often used to answering a call. Get them in the habit of letting you know if they are contacted by anyone, even people they know, so this becomes their normal behaviour.

They could encounter a pop-up or in-app purchasing

A pop-up is a small window that interrupts your activity on a device. If a pop-up appears when children are playing a game they will often click or tap on it to remove it and get on with the game. Pop-ups may contain advertising, in-app purchases (such as additional game characters) or malware that can damage your device’s security. Young children should know to show a pop-up to a trusted adult so it can be removed safely without unexpected costs or security issues.

They could see something that make them feel uncomfortable

Just like Swoosh in our picture book, your child might encounter something unexpected that scares or worries them while they are online. You will naturally comfort them, but it is also a great opportunity to support children to recognise these feelings and value them as a way of showing them what to do next – Ask for help. It can also be a good opportunity to help them to think critically about what they see and hear online and question whether it is true.

What can you do to encourage your child to ask for help?

Our Ask for help message in the early years is for both children and the adults in their lives. It encourages young children’s natural behaviour, so they know that asking for help is always a good idea when they face something unexpected online. But it is equally important for adults to build the habit of an appropriate response. You can:

Help them be aware of their feelings

Identifying and talking about feelings, especially when something doesn’t ‘feel right’, is a key part of recognising when to ask for help.

Assure them they will not be in trouble

Sometimes children may feel it is their fault when they encounter unexpected content online or they may think the content will make you angry. This can stop a child from seeking help.

Teach them to think critically about what they experience online

Ask questions about why they like some online activities or characters better than others. Teach them to question things they see online. Build the habit of questioning whether something online is fact, or just for fun, or a lie.

Be interested and ask to be involved

Children are more likely to share their online experiences if you show your interest in the things they enjoy as well as when they need help. Play games together or watch their favourite show. It is a great opportunity to model positive online behaviour.

Respond constructively

Take the time to answer questions (there are often lots of questions when they are new to an online environment). If you don’t know the answer, you could involve them as you take steps to find out. Remind them that you are always there to help if they need it and praise and encourage them when they ask for help.

Where can you find out more?

  • Join us with your children for the Swoosh and Glide online launch, from 9:00 am on 9 February. We will bring you a special story time video of Swoosh, Glide and Rule Number 5 read by Jimmy Rees (also known as Jimmy Giggle) and you can sing along to My Family Rules with Lah-Lah.
  • Encourage your child to ask for help is an eSafety webpage that will give you more detail and examples to support your child to ask for help.
  • Read online, download or order a copy of eSafety’s Online safety for under 5s booklet to learn more about our Ask for help message and the other key messages: Be safe, Be kind and Make good choices.