I went to a talk recently given in my daughters primary school which was all about internet safety and primary school kids. There is no doubt that technology will play a huge part in our kids lives going forward but there is a huge difference between educating kids in how to use a computer versus giving them free reign with a phone or tablet and fooling ourselves into thinking they are learning.
Barely a week goes by where there isn’t a twitter spat or a facebook fight between grown adults so in my humble opinion if adults are still struggling with how to conduct themselves online then how can we expect young children to know how to do so.I am going to throw down a few of the tips that stood out in my mind as important after the talk the other night, otherwise I would really genuinely urge you to look into attending a talk like this should the opportunity arise. Ger Brick gave the talk I attended and he had already run a workshop with the 3rd to 6th class kids in the school so he was armed with info that related directly to the parents in the room. He was engaging and extremely informative and knowledgeable on the topic.
- The big thing that stood out to me was this – make sure your kids feel like they can talk to you if something should happen them online. One of the stand out stats from the talk was that on average 75% of kids would find it either ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ to tell their parents if something made them uncomfortable online. And frighteningly the main reason they wouldn’t tell is because they were worried that their phone or tablet would be taken off them. So reassure kids there won’t be any repercussions (even if there will be!) if they come to you with a problem. As a general rule of thumb ask them, out of interest rather than interrogation, what they enjoy online or what they do – make the conversation a positive one not one focused on rules and negativity.
- Kids make mistakes online so make sure they avoid using their real names when they are young. Our digital footprint is near impossible to erase so you don’t want some silly mistake made by a 12 year old to be the first result returned in Google 10 years later when a prospective employer Googles their name. Get kids to use an abbreviation so perhaps for me instead of Eimear Hutchinson I would be eimhutch1984.
- If you buy your child a mobile phone do so on the absolute assurance that all passwords are to be given to the parents and that even though the phone is ‘theirs’ you are still allowed access to everything. Snapchat is probably the only app now that is impossible for a parent to police but with all other apps you should have access and you should exercise your right.
- Parental controls work across tablets (not ipads!) and computers and can give a parent a huge amount of control and oversight. You can block certain words being searched, you can see what a child has searched, what websites they’ve visited and you can even remotely shut down a tablet between certain hours.
- Never let a phone, tablet or gaming console past the foot of the stairs – make sure they are used in visible places where there is no hiding what a child is up to. This should actually go for adults too, phones distrupt our sleep patterns so they should remain out of sight when we need to relax and switch off, although if you’re breastfeeding or feeding a small baby in the dead of the night I won’t judge!!!!
- If you child downloads an app or wants to play a game online google the name of the app/game along with the words ‘what a parent needs to know’ so you can be fully aware of the potential dangers.
- Screenshot and block – if your child decides they don’t want to be contacted by someone and they have reason to because that person made them feel uncomfortable encourage them to screenshot any conversations between said child and unwanted contact before they block them. Apps like Snapchat and Kick delete all conversations once the person is blocked so with no proof it may be hard to take anything further should it need to.
- Teach your child what a ‘friend’ is. We all know what a friend is in real life, it’s someone we know, it’s not a neighbour of a friend etc. The concept of ‘friends’ online has changed our idea of what we consider friends, so teach your child to only connect with people they know. It is ALL too easy and all too prevalent for someone to pretend to be a 12 year old girl when in reality they’re a 50 year old man…..
- Look at your own phone/tablet habits and think about how they might appear to a child. I know I’m not the best role model but attending this talk made me look long and hard at my own bad habits, I generally don’t take my phone out around the girls at home, honestly I simply don’t have time, I have all my notifications turned off on my phone so even if I do press the home button all I see is my background image, nothing to draw me into using it when they girls are around. I do the vast majority of my social media work after 8pm when they are gone to bed.
- Cyber bulling is too big a topic for me to cover here so the only advice I will give is to look out for a change in behaviour with your child and their mobile phone/tablet – if they become either obsessive or they suddenly refuse to touch their phone there could be an issue there so just keep an eye out for a change in behaviour.I don’t think it matters what age your child is it is important for parents to be armed with knowledge, kids are clever and will always want to be one step ahead of is but it’s our responsibility, not the schools or their friends, to make sure we keep them safe and protected as best we can.