04 November 2020
Talking to people online: When should I be worried?
Young people use the internet to keep in contact with friends they might know from school or other offline activities. But they could also be chatting with people they’ve met in other online spaces, like on social media sites, gaming platforms or other online communities.
Talking to people online can come with risks – especially if your child is talking to someone they don’t know or haven’t met before. This article will help you understand some of the reasons kids might want to make friends online and give you some tips on how to keep them safer.
Why might kids want to chat to people online?
There can be lots of different reasons why children talk to people they don’t know online. Knowing what some of these are can support you with having conversations with your child to help keep them safe:
• To talk to people with the same interests and experiences as them.
• To talk tactics for gaming.
• For entertainment or because others are doing it, for example, if they’re at a sleepover with friends they might go on a site and talk to people they don’t know for fun.
• To find support and advice.
There are great support networks for young people online, like the Childline message boards. But because we don’t always know that someone is who they say they are, chatting to someone we don’t know online does come with risks.
What you should be aware of
There are some online platforms that have been created specifically for children to chat with other people their own age. These types of sites say that they only connect children with other people their own age. However, they are often unregulated and don’t require much information to sign up which makes it easier for adults to access to them.
These types of sites are easy to find on Google, and because they’re often advertised as ‘kids only’ a child might sign up thinking that it’s ok. Some children, who might not be on social media yet, might also be drawn to sites like this as a way to chat to people online.
You should make sure to talk to your child about talking to people on sites like this and tell them to come to you before they start using a new app, site or game. These sites can be risky and we wouldn’t recommend children under 18 use them.
Some children might want to use apps like Kik and Hoop to chat to others online. These apps are quite similar to dating apps and use your location to connect you with people nearby who you don’t know. It is likely that children could be contacted by someone they don’t know on apps like these.
Often they use video chat as well so it can be easy for children to come across images, videos and messages they could find upsetting and video chat with someone they don’t know.
It is easy for kids to get access to these types of app by putting in a different age when they set up an account.
Omegle is a free online chat room that randomly connects you with people you don’t know via video and text chat. The site doesn’t require you to register meaning that it’s easy for kids to access it. Parents and carers should be aware that there is an ‘unmoderated’ area of the site that contains adult conversation and inappropriate content.
This site is not suitable for kids under the age of 18. Check out our review on Omegle for more information.
Agree some rules with your child about what messaging apps they’re allowed to use. While there are risks with most online platforms, we would recommend only letting your child use apps that have privacy settings and a report and block function.
Sit down with your child and chat through some of the apps they like to use and discuss ways they can stay safer. Make sure to check the age rating and whether it has any communication features to help you decide whether an app is suitable.
Different apps will have different chat functions, such as audio, text or video, that aren’t always obvious. For example, lots of games let you message other players via text or audio chat.
Use our Net Aware reviews to see what functions are on offer and check our advice article on Online Gaming for more tips to keep them safe.
Chatting online can be a great way for kids to keep in contact with friends and family. To help keep them safe, you should make sure to talk to them regularly about who they’re chatting to.
If you find out your child has been talking to someone they don’t know it’s important to not be angry with them.
Instead ask them questions about the person they’re talking to, how they met and what sorts of things they talk about. This will help you understand more about why this relationship is important to them and give you a chance to chat with them about how they can stay safe.
Have a conversation with your child about what it means to be someone’s friend and help them recognise when someone might be being unkind to them. For example, if the other person is asking them to do things that make them feel uncomfortable or sending them mean messages. Explore safety settings together so your child knows how to stop unwanted contact or end an online chat.
Remind them that not everyone online is who they say they are and that they should never arrange to meet someone offline.
If you’re concerned about your child and are struggling to get them to open-up, you might want to talk to their teacher or another parent to see if they know anything. We would recommend reading Childline’s advice page on different online safety topics, like grooming and sexting to help you have a conversation with your child.
We’d also recommend calling the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5002 for further advice and support.
Help your child think about what they share online and who sees it. Compare it to what they would be happy to share offline.
Use examples that are easy for them to understand: “You shouldn't give your number to somebody you don't know on the street. Is somebody online you don't know any different?”
Remind them to never share personal information such as names, locations or links to other social media accounts with anyone online. Tell them to come to you if anyone asks them to share this information or anything else that makes them feel uncomfortable or confused.
You should also remind them to never share images or videos of themselves with people they don’t know.
Make sure to explore the different communication features on the app or game they’re using and agree some rules around how they can communicate with people online. We wouldn’t recommend letting your child video or audio call with someone they’ve met online.
Let your child know they can always come to you if they ever need advice or want to talk about something that’s happened online.
Reassure them that you won’t overreact – you’re just looking out for them.
It’s important to remind your child that they can talk you, another adult they trust, like a teacher, or Childline about anything that worries them online or offline.