Good habits start young
Parents and carers play an important role in helping children to develop digital intelligence — the social, emotional and practical skills needed to successfully navigate the digital world.
Even for preschool children, it is never too early to instil good habits, and as your child gets older it is useful to keep reminding them of these basic digital intelligence principles: respect, empathy, critical thinking, responsible behaviour and resilience. These are also principles you can emphasise with your child when things go wrong.
On this page:
How to build digital intelligence
Promote respectful communication
- Encourage your child to use the same positive manners and behaviour they would use offline, understanding that others may have different cultures, backgrounds or points of view. If it is not OK to say or do something face to face, it is not OK online.
- Remind them to avoid responding to negative messages and to tell you or another trusted adult if they receive them. Tell them it is OK to report others who are not being nice.
- Emphasise the positives. For example, ‘I know what a kind and respectful person you are, and it makes me so proud to see you acting the same way when you're online. You are such a great friend — I can see how much everyone looks up to you at school.’
- Help your child to imagine being in someone else’s shoes, so they can relate to diverse opinions and understand what might make people behave in different ways.
- For example, you might say something like: ‘I noticed that Sam seemed a bit sad when she came over yesterday. Have you noticed anything? What do you think is wrong? Would that make you sad? What can we do to help?’
Teach them to question
- Encourage your child to think critically about what they see online. Teach them to ask questions so they can identify content or messages that may be misleading or exploitative.
- Talk to them about ‘fake news’, or false information that is designed to look like a trustworthy news report, and how quickly it can spread on social media. Teach them to fact check news sources and do their own independent searches on issues, so they can see the variety of opinions on a particular issue and make up their own mind.
- Remind them to be careful when making new friends online as people may not be who they say they are. We are increasingly seeing ‘Finstas’ (fake Instagram accounts) and other impersonation accounts. So it is important to question whether what they are seeing online from their friends is real or not. If it seems out of character, it could be from a fake account.
- Alert your child to the dangers of meeting someone in person that they have been talking to online. Advise them to never arrange to meet an online friend unless a trusted adult is with them and it is during the day in a public space.
- Refer to our advice on avoiding unwanted contact and grooming.
Encourage safe and responsible behaviour
- Work on achieving a healthy balance in your child’s online and offline activities and set boundaries for digital device use in your home. Find out how in time online.
- Remind your child of the importance of safeguarding personal information that can be used to identify or locate them.
- Explain why they should be suspicious of unsolicited messages and emails, and avoid clicking on pop-up ads on websites. Some pop-ups that seem safe can lead to inappropriate sites or ask for personal or financial information. Find out more in taming the technology.
- Help them configure the strongest privacy settings on all the social media apps and sites they use. It is best that only their circle of friends can view their information, tag them in a photo or share posts. And get them to check their settings regularly as updates can sometimes change them back to the default. Read more about privacy settings in The eSafety Guide.
- Ensure your child uses strong passwords on devices and accounts, and explain the importance of not sharing passwords, even with friends. See protect your personal information for advice on setting strong passwords.
- Find more advice in privacy and your child.
Help them build resilience
- Keep your cool if your child experiences a negative experience online. Remember, the choices they make as they navigate difficult situations can help them learn. Our 2017 ‘State of Play’ research shows round six in ten young people were able to identify some positive impacts from a negative online experience.
- Remind your child that they can screen who they accept as online ‘friends’.
- Make sure they know how to block and report users or pages on the sites they use.
- If they have a negative online experience, find out how they are feeling about it, offer support and encourage them to keep things in perspective at the same time.
- For example, you might say: ‘What that person has done is not OK. They must be feeling pretty bad about themselves to treat you like this. How are you feeling? Let's block them to stop their messages coming through.’
- Build your child’s confidence and encourage positive ways of thinking — looking on the bright side, thinking rationally, understanding that difficult times are a part of life but there is help and support available.
I am worried my child might be bullying others
If your child is treating others badly, is dismissive of their feelings or targeting or intentionally excluding a particular child or group, they could be seen as someone who bullies. If they also socialise online there is a chance they may be bullying that person or group online too.
Finding out your child is bullying others can be very painful but you can help them to change, with your guidance and positive engagement.
Here are some strategies to try
- Talk to your child, in a way they can relate to, about how it feels to be left out or teased. Use examples. Build empathy — what it might feel like to be the other person.
- Encourage your child to be honest about their behaviour, take responsibility for it and apologise to those they have bullied. Perhaps show them the page for kids How do I know if I’m being mean online? or for young people I’ve been called a bully.
- Talk about accepting differences and how to deal with people that annoy them. Give examples from your own life such as working with a difficult colleague.
- Explain there will be consequences for them if they treat others badly — for example, if they are rude they need to apologise and lose access to something they enjoy. Remember to also praise any change for the good so they start afresh.
- Identify activities that make your child feel good about themselves such as membership of a sports club or an art class, where they can be successful and have fun.
- Praise your child’s strengths and any behaviour changes they try to make.
- Practice treating others well at home and let them know when they are being kind.
- Spend one-on-one time with your child such as watching a movie, playing sport together or cooking with them.
- Talk to your child’s school about their academic achievement, learning style and abilities and whether they need additional support.
- Work with the school on ways to develop your child’s social skills.
The ‘Keep it Real Online’ campaign by the New Zealand government shows just how important it is not to overreact and instead focus on ways to positively engage with your child to change their behaviour.
My child has shared inappropriate images
If your child has shared an intimate image of someone else without their permission
- try to get the full story
- explain why it is a problem
- try to stop the image being further shared
- help your child to repair any harm
For more details see our guide to sending nudes and sexting for parents and carers.
You can also get help and support from one of these counselling services
5 to 25 year olds. All issues. Confidential phone counselling available all day, every day. Online chat available 24/7, 365 days a year.
12 to 25 year olds. All issues. Phone counselling available all day, every day. Online chat available 9am to 1am EST daily.