Just like when your child is crossing the road for the first time – you don’t let them figure it out for themselves. You hold their hand, you teach them to look both ways, you guide every step. Likewise, children need a helping hand when they go online and start navigating the world wide web.
Every day around 200,000 children go online for the first time. They are growing up in a digital society, surrounded by a sea of devices used for everything from social connection to learning and entertainment. But online is also fraught with predatory adults who prey on the gullible.
Social media is here to stay, yet unfortunately the online world has not been designed with child safety in mind, and so online parenting must become our ‘new normal’. As the custodians of our children’s safety we need to think more critically about the dangers of online access for our children.
We are having to navigate this rather intimidating new role as parents, educators and caregivers without a well-worn road map. The good news is there are ways we can keep up with this evolving tide of online interaction.
Here are 10 tips for navigating a safer journey for your child:
Understanding ‘social media’
Any website that allows social interaction between users is considered a social media site, including sites such as Facebook, Vero, Instagram, Twitter; gaming sites and other virtual worlds.
We simply cannot rely on these platforms to keep our children safe. We need to walk them through the online journey while also explaining the ‘how and why’ to them. We must introduce them to the concept of mindful usage and ultimately give them the self-preservation skills they need in a tech-saturated world.
Parental guidance is critical:
We owe it to our kids to put an age limit on social media. You don’t have to conduct a study to know that young kids under 13 are flocking to social media sites to collect likes and comments from their friends and strangers!
Many of these sites have a minimum age requirement and they are there for a reason, but users are able to get around this. We need to stop giving age restrictions a collective shrug and saying they don’t matter. It is up to us to set the limits and to know when our kids are resilient enough to handle negative online experiences and understand the importance of privacy and how to share and engage safely.
We need to be aware of the dangers of cyber-bullying where many children are robbed of self-esteem and publicly shamed at a time in life when they are still figuring out who they are. The negative consequences can be lifelong.
If you do decide your child is ready for a social media presence, it’s important to come to an agreement about which types of content they are allowed to post, how often they should post, how often you are comfortable with them checking social media, how to handle requests and messages from strangers and how to set privacy levels.
Consider putting your internet rules in writing or signing a contract with your child where you both discuss and agree upon a strategy to tackle all these scenarios together.
Get the scoop:
To know how best to protect your kids, it’s important to understand what type of media they are consuming and who is contacting them. Yes, you do need to monitor who your kids are talking to online! Checking your child’s devices, browser history and social media accounts, is not snooping, it’s smart. If you would check who your child is interacting with in the real world, then you should do it online too. This helps you be a proactive and positive part of the solution. As your children become more mature you can allow them to gain their online independence.
Limit screen time:
As well as watching inappropriate content online, or staying up too late, children who are exposed to unlimited screen time are at risk. Worldwide researchers recommend that recreational screen time should be avoided in the under twos, limited to one hour per day in two to four year-olds, and to two hours per day in five to 17 year-olds.
The single best strategy to protect your child is to insist that all devices be used in common areas of the home. The vast majority of online harassment, cyber bullying and high-risk interactions are happening late at night, so a very important deterrent is to get devices out of your kids hands at night. Unplugging your kids from technology allows an opportunity to teach them balance, awareness and valuable online coping skills.
Have the tech talk:
It helps to talk to your kids in an age appropriate way concerning online dangers. Make sure your kids know there won’t be punishment over the inappropriateness of others, just guidance on how to address it. Start with simple topics at a young age and then build on those conversations with more important topics. When these conversations happen regularly, kids feel comfortable sharing about their online activities.
Their future is literally at their fingertips:
In today’s world, your child’s online reputation can seriously impact their future. Children need to know that everything they do over the web is captured forever and could come back to haunt them. Many potential employers and universities look at social media profiles when researching candidates. It’s important to explain the implications of today’s online interactions before it’s too late.
KILT is focusing on Grade 6’s and 7’s through our Harm Reduction Programme. The programme encourages open conversations about the effects and risks associated with online behaviours and, together with a dedicated facilitator, they discuss solutions and implement action plans that form part of each child’s personal journey.
Tools of the trade:
One great tool you already have at your disposal is your router. Did you know that you could use your router to limit screen time, or even pause Wi-Fi? Find the time (and patience) to research your router settings, often you can filter who has access to what online content when. You can also shut off the Internet when it’s time for playtime, homework, mealtime or bedtime.
There’s an App for that!
We can’t be everywhere all the time, but we can use technology to manage technology! There are a number of great apps out there that’ll give you the parental controls you need to help keep your child safe when you’re not around.
The Klikd app was developed by well-known Knysna clinical psychologist, Pam Tudin, and social media lawyer, Sarah Hoffman. KILT is re-imagining cyber safety education in our After School Study Clubs where we are piloting this smart interactive app for tweens and teens, that gives them the skills and knowledge they need to use social media successfully and safely. This project gets all the key role-players; educators, parents and kids, ‘in the room’ and makes navigating the online world a positive and safe experience.
Know your device:
Make your children aware of the private information they may be sharing while engaging on social media. Many apps are designed to learn everything about the user within just 23 minutes! This can be very dangerous for children and teens because these apps will not only track them, but feed them potentially harmful content designed to keep them online.
We need to remember that when we give our kids access to devices, we are also giving other people and access to our kids.
Turning off geo-location settings will prevent strangers from seeing where your kids are and where their photos are taken. The device should also have settings that help you set screen time and app purchasing limits and content restrictions. We also suggest getting to know their device capabilities and turning off passcode changes, cellular data, account changes and background app activities.
Netiquette, teach them cyber EQ:
Lead by example, like any other skill, social media skills are best learned through observation and modelling of behaviour from role-models. Your own online behaviour should reflect the type of online behaviour you want your child to model.
Join us in our mission to keep kids safe online. We cannot afford to say that it’s all too complicated and we don’t know enough about technology. We need to be proactive and take charge of our children’s online safety. It takes a network to defeat a network, so let’s do this together and protect our children now and in the future.