Written by: Cally Worden
When the kids are little, we are keen to introduce them gently to the wonders of technology that will largely define their adult lives. The simple, innocent skills of using a touchpad and working a mouse are safe and increasingly considered as fundamental life skills. They now, sit alongside learning how to use a knife and fork in the list of ‘Things we need to teach our kids to do’. So far so normal. But eventually – and usually sooner than we’d like – our kids demand and acquire independent access to the internet. And the social media life that goes with it.
Social media is a fabulous concept. An amazing invention that has assumed a far greater role in our culture than anyone could ever have imagined. But, it is also immensely powerful. With power comes the need for responsibility. Social media is such a new concept that the rules and etiquette are still being written. Navigating it safely can be a minefield, which makes monitoring our kids’ usage of it essential. Here are some tips to help keep your kids safe online.
Police the Age Limits
Facebook has a minimum age requirement of 13 for a reason – the sharing of private information and images, the concepts of friending and de-friending and the opportunities for abusive behaviours are all complex issues. Younger kids are simply not equipped to deal with these. Even at 13, you have to question whether some children are really ready for all that the social media revolution has to offer. Facebook and sites like it, have no real means of enforcing an age limit when kids can simply tweak their date-of-birth to gain access. It’s the parents who need to police this.
Control your Privacy Settings
Make regular checks on your device settings to ensure that privacy is set to maximum levels. This will help to protect all members of the family from unwanted attention and online interventions. It’s also vital in the war against viruses and hackers. As your child becomes more responsible, talk to them about why such safeguards are necessary and the dangers of allowing unknown contacts roam free in your personal cyber-world.
Employ Filtering Software
It may feel a bit like spying, but monitoring your child’s Internet activity is the only sure way to keep them safe, until they are sufficiently techno-worldly to look after themselves. Software suites exist, that permit parents to review online activity at very detailed levels if desired, even down to looking at the precise keys that were typed in any given period. They allow you to block, filter and monitor internet activity according to your needs. Start off tough and gradually relax these rules a little as your confidence in your child’s responsibility grows.
Establish Ground Rules
These will be specific to what you want your child to avoid doing online, rules you want to establish around the types of sites they visit, time they spend online and who they interact with and how. Getting these ground rules in place from an early age is essential to making them part of your child’s online life. View it as similar to road safety rules – they exist for a reason, even if your child does not initially understand why they are necessary, it is crucial they abide by the rules you agree. If they consider themselves old enough to be online, they should be old enough to understand that being online brings responsibilities and rules with it. Breaking these rules should lead to real and agreed consequences.
Get Familiar with Your Kid’s Cyber World
Just as getting to know your kids’ real world friends is important, so it is to have a good overview of their cyber-habits. What sites do they visit regularly? Who are their cyber-friends? Trust needs to work both ways, no teen will feel happy with you watching their every move, but make it the norm to discuss your child’s online habits with them, just as you would express interest in what’s going on with their mates in and out of school.
Keep it Visible
Try to avoid creating the need for your child to hide their online activity. Keeping the internet devices in a central location is a good practice to begin with, as it illustrates that there is nothing covert about the whole internet thing. If your child sees you hiving yourself off to mix in your own online world, this will lead them to copy your behaviour. You can’t expect your kids to be open with you if you aren’t with them. Above all, seek to avoid your child locking themselves away in their room to go online – privacy is one thing; active avoidance of monitoring is a big red flag that suggests all may not be well.
Educate, Educate, Educate
We adults are prone to making online errors, but we learn from them and store them in our brain-bank under ‘Things to avoid doing online’. Share this wisdom with your kids, like you would share any other life lessons. Examples include:
- Avoid participating in most free online competitions or questionnaires – you rarely get anything for free, at the very least, learn how to identify the ulterior motive behind the ‘offer’ before deciding to participate
- Never post anything online, or send anything on your phone that you wouldn’t be happy for the public to read or see
- Lead by example and self-regulate the time you spend on social media – real life activity and relationships are just as (more!) important. If necessary impose time limits – for yourself too
- Teach good usage etiquette by example, such as never phoning or texting while driving, not using devices at the table and completing chores (for them – homework) before getting your head stuck into your device
- Educate your child about Internet permanence and the meaning of their long-term reputation online. Once something hits the digital highway it’s virtually impossible to retrieve – its footprint will remain there forever, for all the world to see
- Talk about online stranger danger and the tricks they use to lure children into potentially dangerous and damaging communications and interactions