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It's normal to worry about your grandchildren and the internet. For one thing, they're mostly better at it than we are (it's one of the few areas where our wisdom is not in demand). Then there's the problem of negotiating with the parents - do you secretly think they use technology as free babysitting? Do they have rules they've forgotten to pass on? With this in mind, we've put together some online safety information and tips to help your grandchildren stay safe online.
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The internet can be an invaluable educational and recreational tool for young children, but there are some dark areas of the web and, unfortunately, people looking to take advantage. We recommend learning about the risks facing children today so you can be aware of what to look out for:
It's certainly daunting considering all of these possibilities, but being prepared and talking openly with children about the risks can make them aware of unacceptable and potentially illegal behaviour. Take heed of the Childnet education manager's advice on our internet safety webchat:
"The internet is a wonderful place, with so many different opportunities. I would worry that if you were to deny access to something that a young person enjoys, it would just make them do anything they could to gain access to it! Instead, talk to your grandchild about the positive aspects of the internet and at the same time educate them on the dangers and make sure they feel comfortable to come to you or an adult they trust if anything worries them online."
It can be hard to know what your influence as a grandparent is when it comes to child safety. After all, it's usually parents or guardians who set the rules. But it's important to talk to your grandchildren about online safety, even if they have already discussed it with their parents. As one gransnetter puts it: "Internet safety is the responsibility of everybody who has a young person in their lives."
Still unsure of how to bring up difficult topics with young children and wary of stepping on their parents' toes? Read on for our seven ways to promote online safety, including gransnetters' first-hand experiences.
"Recently I had a spontaneous discussion with my two grandsons aged 11 and 12 about internet security issues. We also discussed grooming and the importance of referring anything they felt uncomfortable about to parents/teachers/grandparents. These are very serious issues facing our little ones. I think internet savvy grandparents have a real role to play here."
Ask them questions about what they get out of their online activities, what sites they like visiting, and whether they see any risks. It's important that you start this conversation with them naturally as they otherwise might keep quiet. Don't pressurise them or make them feel ashamed - you want to create an atmosphere where they feel like they can open up to you and don't have to hide things.
"It is a question of parents and grandparents working together so that children are getting the same message from all sides. Sometimes grandparents are listened to when parents' words are shrugged off."
Encourage them to share their concerns - you may be surprised by how aware they are of safety issues. Or you may gauge that there are serious concerns that they don't know how to share with their parents.
Children don't always want to open up to parents, particularly about sensitive subjects so let them know that you're there to answer any questions they have without judgement. It's always better to talk than avoid the difficult topics.
"Internet safety is an issue that needs to be reinforced from many sides, including parents, grandparents, other family members and school."
"I agree that it is the parents' prerogative, when it comes to online activities, but parents need all the support they can get. However, I do have conversations with my three-year-old granddaughter's parents regarding this, offering advice and suggesting suitable activities for her online, but trying not to interfere."
You may find they haven't thought about how to help their children handle technology happily - in which case you can point them in the right direction (when you've read our tips!) Or you may find they're well-organised and have simply forgotten to tell you.
You should discuss with parents any rules or restrictions they set out and how you will help to enforce these when they visit your house. If your grandchildren are young enough not to have their own devices, it's a good idea to keep computers in a central place where you can keep an eye on their activities.
"My granddaughter had a brilliant book which was about hamsters being groomed on the internet and going off to meet their new ‘friend’ who turned out to be a fox who was selling them to a restaurant. She was only seven but it got the message across loud and clear."
Educational resources are a good way for children to learn about safety and take it on board while not realising they're learning. Childnet have a great list of resources including games to help children become more aware in an engaging way.
"Open discussion with grandchildren is vital."
A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn't say something to someone's face, you shouldn't text it, email it, instant message it or post it as a comment on someone's Facebook page.
"The dangers of the internet are also discussed in school nowadays, but it doesn't hurt to reinforce the message. We are all vulnerable."
Just because it's written online, doesn't mean it's true. Reinforce what their schools are doing (or should be doing), and talk about distinguishing reliable sources from unreliable ones and how to verify information. You can do this by relating their experiences online to films they like or dislike, as an example - it's all part of sifting through and working out what matters, and developing judgement you can rely on.
Explicit images being shared has become an increasing concern with the popularity of smartphones. Make sure grandchildren know the implication of not just taking these images, but also the dangers of sharing them. Reassure children that if they do see or experience anything upsetting that they can always come to you.
There are two important areas to make your grandchildren aware of when discussing this:
Concerned about your grandchild's safety and want to seek advice from other grandparents? Don't miss our grandparenting forum here.