The government has published new advice to help children stay safe online during the coronavirus outbreak.
Whether it’s a Zoom chat with their classmates, playing with their friends on Roblox or accessing online learning, the internet has become a vital tool for children during the COVID-19 lockdown.
But upping the screen time comes with increased risk of online harms such as cyberbullying and disinformation.
So the government has launched new guidance for parents to help protect their child’s online safety amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
The four-point plan recommends measures such as reviewing security and safety settings, checking facts and guarding against disinformation, being vigilant against fraud and scams, and managing the amount of time children are clocking up online.
It follows a virtual roundtable held on Wednesday by digital and culture minister Caroline Dinenage, security minister James Brokenshire, and child safety organisations to review the impact of coronavirus on child online safety.
Read more: Parents need to be aware of ‘separation anxiety’ caused by coronavirus lockdown
“Staying at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives means we are spending more time online,” said Dinenage.
“This means we must all be extra vigilant, follow good security practice and make sure our children are safe too. It’s also important that we check the facts behind what we read and remember to take regular breaks.
“We are completely committed to making the UK the safest place to be online, and that’s why we have brought together a wealth of practical advice which I urge parents to use and share with their children.”
The government advice includes using parental controls to manage what children can access, switching on family filters to protect children from inappropriate content, and encouraging children to speak to a trusted adult if they come across anything online that makes them uncomfortable.
“Technology has proved to be enormously important in these unprecedented times,” says Will Gardner, UK Safer Internet Centre director and Childnet CEO.
“We know that children are benefitting hugely from being connected, but we also know it’s even more important that we take steps to keep them safe and happy whilst online.”
Read more: How to talk to children about the coronavirus
As well as the practical advice to keep children as safe as possible online, the guidance also encourages parents to consider the wellbeing of their child and the impact screen time could be having on that.
The UK’s chief medical officer has also provided advice on screen time with some tips to help children strike a balance:
Getting enough good quality sleep is very important. Leave phones outside the bedroom when it is bedtime.
Talk about sharing photos and information online and how photos and words are sometimes manipulated. Parents and carers should never assume that children are happy for their photos to be shared. For everyone – when in doubt, don’t upload!
Read more: How coronavirus measures may be affecting children’s mental health
Talk with children about using screens and what they are watching. A change in behaviour can be a sign they are distressed – make sure they know they can always speak to you or another responsible adult if they feel uncomfortable with screen or social media use.
Everyone should take a break after a couple of hours sitting or lying down using a screen. It’s good to get up and move about a bit. #sitlessmovemore
Family time together
Screen-free meal times are a good idea – you can enjoy face-to-face conversation, with adults giving their full attention to children.
Use helpful phone features
Some devices and platforms have special features – try using these features to keep track of how much time you (and with their permission, your children) spend looking at screens or on social media.
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