Updated: Sep 15, 2021
Kids access to all of the information available on the web is a blessing and a curse. I have heard so many horror stories that I admit I am fearful of the day my girls start to ask when they can have their own smartphone. However my son James is a teenager and is already immersed in the digital communication world. But with well publicised studies about the impact of pressures on young kids delivered through social media sites, that many adults haven't heard of, never mind have a clue about how to navigate, how do we try to be there to advise and guide our kids? In addition to that I learned that kids now have their own language to disguise their communications. So what the heck is a parent to do?
Online risks seem scary, but thankfully there are plenty of practical things you can do to keep your child safe.
Have an open conversation
Communication is key! I really try to make my child feel they can have a conversation with me without judgement. I sometimes recall what I was doing and thinking at his age and it has a great effect of knocking me off my high moral horse. Have regular conversations about what they are going through and experiencing. Let them know you’re on their team, and you’ll always be there to help and advise them. I tell my son stories about my time at their age which I find really helps us to connect.
Let your child educate you
Be curious about what apps your child is using, what games they’re playing, who they’re talking to online. Let them teach you how it works. You can’t be expected to be a digital wiz, and your child knows more than you about their online world. Let them have fun teaching you! Trust me they love telling you how the world really works! Be prepared for an “ok boomer” moment! Despite me telling him I’m a proud GenX’er!
Explore online safety together
Encourage your child to report bullying content, and explore how to do this together. Talk about options for solving problems and find out what they’d like to happen. Again, let them know you’re in this together.
The importance of privacy settings
Although there are age restrictions on many social media platforms, children and young people rarely follow these. There are also risks for all of us, whether a child or adult, in having a social media profile. If we don't have the right privacy settings applied (or these are not available) our private information may be available to many people making us more vulnerable to bullying and other pressures.
Set appropriate boundaries
Familiarise yourself with parental controls, and use them! Discuss boundaries with your child, and set boundaries on screen time too. It’s particularly important to reduce screen time at bed time so your child can get a good sleep. I recently enforced a no phone in the bedroom on a school night policy. My son got to recharge his phone in the kitchen only. It was surprisingly easy but again it requires consistency.
Do fun, offline activities as a family
I ensure that James does not have his phone at family meal times and we regularly do family activites where the phone is banned, such as movie night, family walks, and good old fashioned (surprise, surprise) board games. Spend some quality time offline.
Be a role model
Despite what they say, your child is learning from you. Try to set a positive example by setting screen time boundaries for yourself, too. I also find that by being polite to people rubs off and my son is regularly complemented on his politeness too. I find that with most things, if you involve your teen in the process, such as homework schedules and screentime, they are way more likely to keep to the schedule rather than if you dictate the rules.
Setting up parental controls
Parental controls are helpful to protect children. There are several apps you can install (see my post on best parental control apps) Be mindful that parental controls are not the full solution to online safety; follow up with having the conversations with your child.