Why internet safety matters
Preschoolers like going online to look at videos or to play games. They can do this using computers, mobile phones, tablets, TVs and other devices.
There are safety risks for preschoolers online, although preschoolers won't usually be exposed to as many risks as older children because they're less likely to be using the internet independently.
When you take some practical internet safety precautions, you protect your child from risky or inappropriate content and activities. And your child gets to make the most of her online experience, with its potential for learning, exploring, being creative and connecting with family and friends.
Internet safety risks for preschoolers
There are three main kinds of internet safety risks for children:
- Content risks: these risks include content that children might find upsetting, disgusting or otherwise uncomfortable. Examples are pornography, violence, images of cruelty to animals or programs meant for older children.
- Contact risks: these risks include children coming into contact with people they don't know. For example, a child might use a communication app and talk to a stranger.
- Conduct risks: these risks include children acting in ways that might hurt others. For example, a child might destroy a game his friend or sibling has created. Accidentally making in-app purchases is another conduct risk.
Protecting your child from internet safety risks: tips
You play a key role in reducing the risks that your child is exposed to on the internet. There are many practical things you can do to help your preschooler stay safe while she's online.
Here are some ideas:
- Use digital media and the internet with your child or make sure you're close by and aware of what your child is doing online. This way you can act quickly if your child is concerned or upset by something he's seen.
- Create a family media plan. Your plan could cover things like screen-free areas in your house, internet safety rules like not giving out personal information, and the programs, games and apps that are OK for your child to use.
- Use child-friendly search engines like Kiddle, or content providers like ABC Kids, CBeebies, YouTube Kids or KIDOZ.
- Check that games, websites and TV programs are appropriate for your child. For example, you can look at reviews on Common Sense Media.
- Make sure older siblings follow your internet safety rules when they go online with your preschooler. Rules might include watching only age-appropriate programs.
- Set up a folder with bookmarks for your child's favourite apps or websites so that she can easily find them. You can set up folders and bookmarks on all the devices that your child uses.
- Check privacy settings, use parental controls, block in-app purchases, and disable one-click payment options and location services on your devices.
- Find out how to make complaints about offensive online content.
As your child gets older and more confident and starts to use the internet independently, you'll need to review your strategies. Our article on internet safety for children aged 6-8 years has tips.
Teaching safe and responsible online behaviour
You can help your child learn how to use digital media and the internet safely, responsibly and enjoyably. If you teach your child how to manage internet safety risks and worrying experiences for himself, he'll build digital resilience. This is the ability to deal with and respond positively to any risks he encounters online.
You can do this by:
- going online with your child
- being a good role model
- teaching your child about good and bad content
- teaching your child about in-app purchases.
Going online with your child
Your child will get more out of being online if you're watching or playing with her. You can:
- get her to show you websites that are fun or interesting
- ask her to show you how to play the app or game that she's playing
- talk about the videos she's watching.
If you think the app or video isn't appropriate, you could say, 'This is a bit grown-up. Let's find something else'. Then help your child to find something more appropriate.
Being a good role model
Your child learns from you. This means you can model safe and healthy internet use by using digital media in the way you want your child to use it now and in the future. For example, you can keep internet-connected devices out of bedrooms.
It's also a good idea to find out how grandparents and other people in your child's life use the internet and try to agree on a shared approach.
Teaching your child about good and bad content
You can explain to your child that there's good and bad content on the internet, including content that isn't true. Encourage your child to talk to you if he sees something upsetting, scary or worrying. For example, you could say, 'Some videos on the internet can be upsetting or scary. Tell me if you see something that scares you or makes you unhappy'.
Teaching your child about in-app purchases
Lots of games and apps have in-app purchases for things like character costumes and new levels. You could teach your child about these by saying something like, 'People use the internet to make money and we have to be careful that we don't give them our money by mistake. If something pops up on the screen don't click it. Come and tell me'.
It's OK if your rules are different from those of other families. If you've thought them through and you're happy with the way they're working, you're helping to keep your child safe online.