This article was contributed by Parent Zone

Parent Zone provides information, help, advice, support and resources to parents, teachers, health professionals, police officers, internet safety officers and HR professionals - anyone who engages with parents.

Main content

Safer Internet Day 2019: How to help your child be kind to others online

The theme of this year’s Safer Internet Day is ‘Together for a better internet’. Here are some things you can do to teach your child to be kind and respectful online

Teach them empathy and understanding

A good way to teach kindness online is to talk to children about what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Children who are able to empathise with others and picture the consequences of their actions are less likely to upset others online, whether they meant to or not.
If you are worried that your child has done something to upset someone, ask them how they think it would make them feel and how they would react if the same had happened to them. Point out positive examples of when they or someone else has shown empathy and understanding and praise your child when you notice them doing something kind for someone else. If they’re reminded of what it means to be understanding of other people’s feelings and why it’s important, they may make a habit of it.

Help them recognise the difference between banter and bullying

Things can get quite competitive when children chat online - when one player beats another in Fortnite, for example, the chat can get quite heated! Although words and insults may be thrown around out of frustration or as a joke, some children will take it personally and become upset — especially if the other people in the game are people they’ve never met in real life.
Remind your child that the people they play games with online are of different ages and that they need to be careful what they say, even if they meant it as a joke. It may be different when your child is playing with their friends from school who they’re comfortable joking around with, but a young child playing online might find the atmosphere hostile and feel like they’re being bullied. Talk to them about being an upstander and challenging comments they think are mean or nasty. Likewise, make sure they know that they can come to you if anyone says something that upsets them. 

Explain how they can avoid unnecessary misunderstandings online

Online messaging may have made communication more efficient, but it’s important to talk to children about the difficulties of interpreting what people mean over messages – even adults struggle with this!  Explain how it’s much easier to interpret the meaning of a sentence in real life — when you can take into account a person’s facial expression, their tone of voice and other cues like a smile. With messages sent online, something as simple as not including an exclamation mark may make the person receiving the message feel upset or confused. For example, if someone sends the message ‘Don’t worry - it’s fine!’ you may assume that everything is OK — but if someone just says ‘It’s fine.’ the person reading the message may be left wondering if that person is annoyed with them.
You could try sending a few messages to each other using different emojis to practise avoiding misunderstandings and working out how you can make messages sound kinder and easier to understand.

Emphasise the damage that trolling can cause

When your child is old enough to start using social media, they may follow people they look up to — their favourite singer, band, sports person — and show their admiration through likes, hearts and comments. It can be a positive experience, a chance to explore their interests and express their personality. Some children may write something nasty online about the celebrities they don’t like — for example a player on a rival football team or an influencer promoting things they don’t support. Writing unkind messages and leaving comments like this is called trolling. Unfortunately, many people do this online - children and adults alike.

It’s important to teach children about the damage that nasty comments can cause and that just because it is not said in person and you don’t know them, it doesn’t make it less unkind or hurtful. Your child may feel as though celebrities are so far removed from their reality that they won’t be affected by what people say or write about them. But everyone can feel hurt and even threatened by mean comments. If the trolling borders on a threat, even if it’s not meant that way, your child needs to understand that this could be reported.
Help your child understand that there are lots of ways that they can promote kindness to help balance out some of the nasty comments and messages that others will post online.   

Discuss with them how they could:

  • Avoid encouraging nasty comments – such as ‘liking’ things that are mean or could upset someone else.
  • Speak up if something has happened – telling an adult or teacher or reporting something online.

Further reading

Information about trolling
How to tackle in-game bullying

Related articles

Explore further