It’s the time of year when many children are asking for smart phones or mobile devices that can allow them independent online access. Or, if you are a parent that has recently separated, you may be thinking such a device could be a good way to enable your child to keep in touch with you, such as by FaceTime, Skype or Whatsapp, when they are away from you and with their other parent.

Allowing your child to go online gives them access to social networking sites; forums and message boards; websites, apps or game consoles that allow them to play games alone or with others; and online chat sites. It also allows them to share images and watch videos through Instagram and YouTube and the like, as well as search for information or content through search engines.

While the benefits do include allowing children to connect with friends and family, learn new things, get help with homework and express themselves creatively, the dangers of being online can be far reaching. They might gain access to inappropriate content and ignore age restrictions. They might friend or communicate with people they don’t know, share personal information, run up debts, or worse still fall victim to blackmailing scams or grooming and sexual abuse.

Parental controls can be used on social networks, online games and browsers and on both hardware and software that can filter or monitor what your child can see. However, parental controls aren’t a single solution to staying safe online; talking to your child, setting rules and agreeing boundaries is also hugely important.

The NSPCC, through their Share Aware campaign, give a lot of information to both parents and children about staying safe online. As well as parental controls, they advise that talking to your children and encouraging responsible behaviour is critical. They can give you advice on all aspects of staying safe online, including: setting up parental controls, adjusting privacy settings, the risks in social networks and the sort of conversations you should be having with your children. To learn more about the Share Aware campaign and staying safe online visit www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/share-aware