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Parents encouraged to have regular conversations with teens about online safety

Parents have been encouraged to have more regular, open conversations with their children around online safety after a new study found that most wait until a problem occurs before speaking to their children.

The new research from TikTok and the online child safety group Internet Matters shows that only a third of parents with teenage children speak to them about online safety once a week.

A further 16% said they only speak to their children on the topic every few months.

It found that 74% of parents would wait for a trigger, such as noticing a negative change in their child’s behaviour, before speaking to them about online safety.

While the research found a general level of confidence in discussing safe social media use, it did highlight some concerning knowledge gaps – such as 46% not being aware that social media platforms required users to be at least 13 in order to have their own account.

Internet Matters chief executive Carolyn Bunting said it was “vital” parents have regular conversations with their children around the online world in order to help their children develop their critical thinking skills.

In response to the research, the charity has published new guidance with TikTok to help support parents having positive conversations with their children.

The guidance instructs parents to try and initiate conversations with teens about online safety as well as encourages them to familiarise themselves with parental controls and respect their child’s privacy.

“It’s vital that teens are helped to develop their critical thinking skills to navigate their online world, and parents play a hugely important role in teaching them those skills,” Ms Bunting said.

“Having regular open and honest conversations, talking about the different things that they have seen or experienced online, provides the perfect opportunity to develop strategies for different situations.

“But we all know parents are busy people, so we hope to help parents feel better supported and more confident to have those conversations.”

TikTok’s head of family safety and development health, Tracy Elizabeth, said: “The research suggests that whilst most parents feel confident discussing online safety with their teens, parents would also appreciate additional support approaching these conversations.

“What’s encouraging to see is a curiosity from parents to learn more about the positive steps they can take to keep their children safe in the digital world.

“At TikTok we want to help facilitate open and meaningful conversations between caregivers and teens to bring a sense of trust and agency to both parties.

“There is no one size fits all approach to child safety, which is why we think carefully about the unique needs of teens and families when developing our features and safety tools.

“Features like Family Pairing feature and Screen Time Management put young people’s wellbeing at the heart and are customisable based on individual needs.”