- Children may seek out connections with new people online with a view to making new friends or finding people who share similar interests or views as them. This can be especially important for children who find it difficult to connect with others offline; the broad range of online groups and communities can make it easier for them to find others who are ‘like them’.
- Many popular games and apps are based around positive and fun social experiences – every time they start a new match on a game, your child might be automatically placed in a team with people they don’t know, or play competitively against a number of strangers. Some of the most popular games enjoyed by children (and adults) offer experiences similar to social media, but with greater interactivity and creativity.
- The thought of your child communicating with strangers online can be a worrying one, but there are many opportunities for children to have positive experiences online when chatting to new people. Working as part of a group or team can encourage teamwork and communication skills. Tasks completed with others online may also encourage problem solving skills and children may learn new skills from positive online role models.
- However, there are risks related to communicating with strangers. Most of these come from the motives behind a stranger contacting a child. An online user may contact or interact with a child to start a genuine friendship, because they share similar interests, to ask for help, or to offer or sell something. But in some cases contact with a child will be in an attempt to manipulate them into giving something over/doing something that the stranger wants, or to harm that child in some way.
- Contact with strangers can also lead to exposure to content or conversations that are not age appropriate for a child. This can lead to a child feeling worried, upset or confused.
- Explain to your child that many of the people they may chat to in apps and games are strangers. This doesn’t mean that your child cannot interact with them, but they should always remain mindful that they are communicating with people they do not know, and consider carefully what personal details they may disclose in conversation.
- Ask your child about the people they communicate with online. What do they know about them, and what do they talk about with different online contacts? Regular discussion about your child’s online communication gives you lots of opportunities to remind them about protecting their personal details when talking to new people.
- Many games and apps have settings that can be used to restrict contact with other users (including disabling voice chat in games). Look for these settings and discuss with your child how and when these could be used to help them avoid unwanted contact from others.
- Remind your child that if any contact from someone else online makes them feel worried or uncomfortable, they should always tell you or another trusted adult as soon as possible. You should work with your child to report the user, block further contact from them and seek further help if required.