Keeping your children safe online – a guide for families with children under 5

    Published: 21 April 2020

    Most of our communication these days is online and we know that many parents and carers rely on online platforms to support their children’s learning and that children will often choose to use a phone, tablet or other online device in their free time. So that schools can support parents and carers in keeping their children safe online, Caroline Chalke from Herts for Learning has put together this guide that can be shared with parents and carers:


    Children using tablet


    Statistics released by Ofcom show that over 50% of children aged 3-4 go online for nearly 8 hours a week, and 1 in 5 children aged  3-4 have their own tablet.

    This will have increased since the Covid 19 crisis as many parents and carers are using the internet to support children’s learning at home.

    There is a wide variety of home learning resources available for young children to access via the internet, providing a great opportunity to support and extend children’s learning.

    At the same time, it is vital that parents and carers ensure children are learning safely online. As parents and carers teach children how to cross the read safely, children also need to be taught how to use the internet safely. 

    So, what do we need to consider in order to protect young children from harm as they use a range of different devices to access the internet world? :

    Content  - children can have access to harmful content, inappropriate images, inappropriate messages on social media, inappropriate content of adverts that ‘pop up’ on the page – inappropriate content includes pornographic images, images of violence, any image that may cause a young child distress. 

    Contact – through social media and games children can have access to other users, who may not be children. This contact may put the child at risk; they may be asked to do things they do not want to do; the child may assume the other ‘player/user’ is a child and a friend. The device being used may also provide the location of the child, potentially putting the child at risk of being reached by unauthorised and unknown adults.

    Conduct – children need to learn and understand how to behave in the online world, what type of behaviour is acceptable, what is not acceptable and what to do if they see something they do not like.


    1. Learn about online safety

    As a parent or carer, learn about online safety and what actions you need to take to ensure your child is safe online.  Access these websites to gather information and advice:

    ThinkUKnow website giving advice about how to make sure children have a safe experience online.

    Support and tips from the NSPCC on how to help keep children safe. From advice on children’s mental health to staying safe online and support for parents and carers.

    InternetMatters advice, from age-specific online safety checklists to guides on how to set parental controls on a range of devices. Includes a range practical tips to help children get the most out of their digital world.

    A government webpage with advice for parents and carers on helping children understand the risks around use of social media.


    2. Prepare

    Review the range of internet enabled devices you have in your house that are accessible to the children. Have a second look to ensure you have identified all of the digital devices. Have you also checked through the toybox? What apps are accessible on mobile devices, do the children have unrestricted access to these?

    Consider the use of passwords to limit access to all devices and check privacy settings on social media accounts. How do all members of the family use digital device? Where are the devices? Who has free access to them?


    3. Take control

    Read the guidance available on the controls that can be put in place to restrict children’s access to the full range of internet services. For instance, the Childnet International guidance here:

    Childnet International

    Make use of the parental controls available on home broadband and any internet enabled device in the home. View the step-by-step guides available on the internet matters website – this includes guides for a wide range of broadband providers, social media, gaming consoles, search engines;

    Parental controls 

    If you need any help setting up parental controls, you can also call the NSPCC/O2 Helpline    

    Tel: 0808 8005002

    Put the controls in place and review these on a regular basis to ensure they are still working. Remember, children will continually develop their skills and knowledge in how to use the

    Internet and parents and carers will need to stay one step ahead.

    For very young children, especially those under the age of 5 years old, parents and carers should always supervise their child when they are online and be easily available to support children if they have any concerns or worries.


    4. Review the content

    Before your child accesses any games or learning activities online, review the content and activities yourself to ensure they are suitable for the age and stage of your child, and that you have an awareness of the information being shared, how the game or activity is played and any contact with other users.

    The Pan European Game Information (PEGI) website enables parents and carers to input information of the name of the game into a database tool to check the minimum age recommendation for the game based on the content:


    Guide to social networks, games and apps: Net Aware  


    5. Develop a Family Agreement 

    As a family, discuss the rules you as parents and carers will have in place around the use of internet enabled devices. These boundaries should include where the devices are to be used, for example, not in bedrooms but in family living areas, kitchen, lounge, where parents and carers can monitor what the children are accessing.  Parents and carers may also need to consider how they limit the amount of time children have access to the devices and the internet. Consider setting a limit on ‘screen time’. Parents and carers are positive role models for children in the use of digital devices; consider having a ‘no digital devices at meal times’ rule.

    Starting children with positive digital habits early will help support their health and wellbeing in the longer term. The digital 5 a day campaign on the Children’s Commissioner website gives children and parents easy to follow, practical steps to achieve a healthy and balanced digital diet:

    Digital 5 a day - practical steps

    Digital 5 a day - blog


    6. Learn online safety together with your child

    Talk about online safety with your child. Children need to be able to develop the skills and knowledge of how to keep themselves safe online. They need to know who to go to if they see something they do not like online, if it ‘makes their tummy feel funny’. Children need to know to go to a parent or carer and that their access to the device will not be restricted, but help will be provided to remove the offending item.

    It is not recommended to remove the digital device as a solution to the issue, as this will result in children not telling parents and carers when something is upsetting, as they will not want to lose access to their device.

    See the suggestions below for free stories and activities you can use with your child to talk about online safety:

    Access the thinkuknow website for home activity packs with simple 15 minute activities you can do with your child to support their online safety:

    Home activity packs for ages 4-5


    Child cartoonJessie & Friends is a series of three animations that follow the adventures of Jessie, Tia and Mo as they begin to navigate the online world, watching videos, sharing pictures and playing games. There’s also a storybook for each episode, to help you and your child keep the conversation going.

    Jessie & Friends: online safety education for 4-7s

    The key message throughout Jessie and Friends is that if a child is ever worried by anything online, they should tell a grown-up they trust, who will help them.



    The Adventures of Smartie the Penguin is an interactive story offering childrenPenguins the chance to decide what Smartie should do next as he explores the Internet and plays his favourite online games. Like most children, Smartie loves to play on his tablet but along the way he finds the Internet tricky to navigate. For example a picture pops up on his screen. It's colourful and Smartie doesn't know what to do. The story allows children the opportunity to discuss with an adult what might happen and why it is important to ask for help.

    Smartie the Penguin


    Digi DuckThe Digiduck® collection has been created to help parents and teachers educate children aged 3 - 7 about online safety.  The collection includes a ebooks, PDFs, a poster and an interactive app.

    Digi Duck stories





    7. Happy Learning online

    Using all of this knowledge children should now be able to access the wide range of learning available to them on line and have an understanding of how to keep themselves safe.

    • Parents and carers should feel secure in the actions taken to keep their children safe online.
    • Remember – always review the controls in place and any new materials the children are accessing.
    • The internet is a fast moving place and parents and carers need to stay one step ahead to keep their children safe.

    So there you have it! Feel free to use this advice with parents and carers in its entirety or adapt it to suit the context of your setting’s families and community. This blog contains lots of strategies and top tips but the most important thing is that we keep online safety high on the agenda with our parents and carers through regular communication using a range of media. Do follow the HfL Early Years team on Facebook and on Twitter @hertsearlyyears for regular updates.

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