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Online safety refers to the actual act of staying safe online. It's typically called internet safety, cyber safety, or e-safety. This tactic incorporates all technological devices that hold access to the internet, from smartphones and tablets to PCs and laptops.


Being safe online is the step individuals must take to protect themselves and their children from online harms or risks that may jeopardise their personal information. These communications may impact the mental health and well-being of others.



Why is online safety for children important?

Unfortunately, the internet is unforgiving, especially for children with impressionable minds. There are three major risk factors to consider, including contact (what the children may see), contact (who may communicate with them), and conduct (how they may behave).


The most significant online danger is deliberate ignorance. Many parents assume their children aren't at risk because they wouldn't do something inappropriate. Unfortunately, there are risks for children of any age to be online without strict guidance. The casual use of technological devices is also a problem, with kids spending more time online than interacting with others in the real world. Although accusations of television "rotting the brain" were thrown toward TV viewers in the past, what is the direct and causal relationship between continuous online use and typical growth and development?


Content Exposure

Young children may witness inappropriate images, messages, or videos that could upset, worry, or frighten them. Without the proper safety precautions, it isn't easy to prevent unfiltered access. Additionally, children may imitate inappropriate or harmful behaviour they witness online. As children are naturally curious, searching for inappropriate content may accidentally or deliberately search online. This risk factor would include voice-activated tools. Accidental permissions are common with young children, granting websites or applications permission to share location, GPS, or other personal details. Finally, spending real money on an app or game is standard.


Contact Exposure

With the online realm comes multiple interactions with strangers. Children may experience abuse online (including sexual abuse) by individuals they don't know. This unintentional interaction includes online gaming applications, forums, or video chat functionality. Unfortunately, children may also face online abuse from individuals they know, including friends and family members. Finally, contact risks may include sending or receiving images or information from people on the device's contact list.


Conduct Exposure

A few youngsters will begin exhibiting unhealthy behaviours or boundaries around screen use. These unhealthy behaviours may include unkind behaviour, mean words, or excluding others from the gaming platform. With online exposure comes an increased probability of inappropriate words, phrases, or terminology exposure.



What impact does technology have on a child's development in the early years?

As the world becomes increasingly dependent on technology, it's essential for young children to know the importance of staying safe online. According to Ofcom's Children and Parents Media Use and Attitudes Report, approximately 52% of 3–4-year-olds go online for an average of nine hours a week. Additionally, 45% of 3–4-year-olds use YouTube. It's critical to influence young minds on how to use technology in a safe manner.


Studies have shown that children benefit from screen use but face potential challenges that staff should be aware of.

These developmental outcomes aren't without risk but can include:

- encouraging language development

- improving literacy and numeracy skills

- building a better understanding of their world

- opportunities to promote creativity and learning

- early development of digital skills


Potential challenges of screen use for a child's development include:

- Displacement of activities that could promote social interaction

- Risk of exposure to inappropriate content

- Influence on a child's ability to control their emotions


According to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, there is currently no 'safe' amount of screen time, with the proper limitations varying between families. This approach emphasises the individual need to assess screen time limits based on the child's needs. In addition, this approach ensures proper social activities, routines, and sleep are not negatively impacted.


Thankfully, most care providers and parents will recognise that the quality of what children consume will directly impact the online experience and safety. For instance, encouraging content that educates and engages children is beneficial for growth and development overall.



10 Tips for keeping children safe in childcare and at home

Closely monitor and review any social media policies which cover a staff member's personal use of social media, online interactions, or intentional sharing of workplace content.


As electronic devices become more standard within the early years' settings, here are a few tips to help practitioners keep children safe.


  1. Always outline how you support children's use of technology within your centre. This outline may include safeguarding policies, procedures, and adaptations to technology.
  2. Consistently monitor and support children using the device. Although screentime is increasing in popularity, young children should never be left unattended.
  3. Enforce all device safety settings, preventing access to inappropriate content. Use the safety settings to ensure apps and content is age appropriate.
  4. Make sure all content posted online is safe. Do not share details of children, parents, or other caregivers. Likewise, adhere to any social media policies that cover staff personal use of social media platforms. Again, always consider what you're sharing online and how it may impact your role as a childcare provider.
  5. Always get parental consent before creating, posting, or sharing images of children. Store them safely and securely.
  6. Talk with children about safe technology use, what that looks like, and how to report any issues. Encourage children to communicate with parents about safe online use in the home.
  7. Carefully choose educational platforms and apps that help develop skills online.
  8. Enforce technology limitations according to childcare guidelines, particularly for young children. Technology time could be limited by time or activity.
  9. Try to balance all technological activities with other activities. These activities should include physical activities, mental stimulation, and peer interaction.
  10. Maintain ongoing communication with parents and guardians. Let them know what online activities were complete and any issues while interacting online.


Supporting Children Online While at Home

Although the internet can be a scary place, teaching critical thinking and safe browsing is essential online. To support children between zero and five, consider the following options:


1. Always Explore Together

Talk to your children about the internet and begin exploring it together. You'll want to show them all the fun and educational things while telling them they can talk to you if they find something upsetting.


2. Be Actively Involved

Always encourage children to use electronic devices in the same room as the family so you can keep an eye on how they use the internet. Ask questions about what they're doing and encourage them to share the enjoyment with you.


3. Perform Safe Search Online

When letting your child search things independently, always turn on the safe search settings, activated under Google settings.


4. Use Passwords for Everything

Ensure all devices are kept out of reach and set passwords for internet-enabled devices. A set password will allow close monitoring of use while preventing unrestricted access. Additionally, make sure all passwords block additional in-game purchases.


5. Try to Put Yourself in Control

Activate any parental controls on the home broadband or internet. Most internet-enabled devices offer parental controls. For instance, Google's Android, Microsoft Windows, and Apple iOS provide ways to control the apps and websites your child can visit (often by age rating or content limitations).


6. Keep to Age-Appropriate Sites and Apps

Always choose safe, educational, and interactive platforms for your child. Use the services for young children (like YouTube Kids or Sky Kids) whenever possible. The age ratings available in the app stores can help you gauge suitability.


7. Set Guidelines and Boundaries

Children benefit from knowing the rules and limitations of using electronics from a young age. Explain which websites are safe to use and how long they can play online.



Resources, help and relevant authorities in the US, UK

When implementing new routines and guidelines, it isn't easy to know where to start. Thankfully, we've compiled a few resources on how to stay safe online while promoting healthy interaction with technology.


Guide to Manage Screen Time


This comprehensive guide will help you understand the impact on children, how to implement rules and guidelines for technology, and how to support children online.



If you're looking for a host of information about online safety, look no further. This platform holds countless articles, posters, videos, and toolkits to keep children of all ages safe online.


Education from the National Crime Agency

The National Crime Agency's CEOP Education team works to protect children from online child sexual abuse. They offer training, resources, and information to all professionals working with young children.


The United States Department of Justice

With in-depth videos and tips to keep children safe online, the Department of Justice works to keep children safe from online predators.


A Parent Guide to Online Safety for Children

With various tips and techniques for keeping your children safe online, Vodafone UK offers a comprehensive Digital Parenting Magazine for parents and grandparents wanting to learn more.



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