cyber safety
Tricky stuff

Cyber safety

Mum of two and author of ‘Protecting our children in cyber-space’ – Kerry-Ann Ferreira advises parents how to keep children safe in the online world.

Is your smartphone or mobile device screen constantly covered in tiny fingerprint smudges? Does your child download apps that you don’t have a clue about? You’re not alone if your child is more tech savvy than you are. Research from (www. puts the average age of first phone ownership at 7.1 years in Europe. Even those young children who don’t personally own a mobile phone are still likely to access and use the phones of others.

There is no doubt that these devices are fantastic learning aids but there are risks that children and young people may access inappropriate content, or content and services that just aren’t designed for their age group. Likewise they might engage in communication – whether by text messaging, instant messaging (IM) or via social networking sites (SNS) – that is not necessarily appropriate. So what can wee as parents do about cyber safety?

Protecting children

Mum of two, Kerry-Ann Ferreira from Co. Down was inspired to write her first book – Protecting Our Children in Cyberspace after a relative went through cyber bullying. “I started doing some research on the whole area of cyber bullying, it really opened my eyes up to it. Children can now take their playground fights online.” Researching the subject, Kerry-Ann quickly realised that there were few practical guides available on how to set safety settings on devices so she set about creating a book that would be relevant to all parents of children aged 11 and under.

“There are huge benefits to the internet in how we communicate, for studies and in work, therefore removing my children from the digital world was not practical nor in their best interests. However, I was determined to keep my children safe online and a key component of this was upscaling my own knowledge of their technologies… and quickly!” explains Kerry-Ann. “From chat rooms, to sharing images, to gaming consoles, it seems that the world can connect with our children unless we educate them on fact and fiction, and put in place safety settings to mitigate the chances of our children being exposed to unsuitable content.”

A guide for parents

With advice on ‘privacy settings’ to ‘rules of engagement’, Protecting Our Children in Cyberspace outlines practical steps for parents on their children’s’ online behaviour and how to help create a safe online environment for young children. Kerry-Ann is planning to set up a website following on from the book. 10% of proceeds from Protecting Our Children in Cyberspace will go to the Cybersmile Foundation.

Kerry-Ann’s top tips for protecting children online:

1. Understand your child’s device and what, when and how they can access the internet.

2. Our children learn and develop behaviours that they see and experience – we, as responsible adults, must model good and healthy online behaviour that our children can emulate.

3. Childproof the cyber world by activating parental controls on your child’s device. The majority of the current devices already have built in software.

4. Set guidelines and boundaries. This includes proper online conduct, what to do if they come across content that makes them uncomfortable and what sites they are permitted to access.

5. Position the family computer in a communal area. In this way you are offering your child the best safety software with the highest and most robust parental controls… you are offering them yourself! In this way you can monitor their behaviour – this will give you a good indication if things are not as they should be.

6. Teach children the importance of privacy and privacy settings and be clear about what information they can share online and what information they must not. Personally identifiable information can act like bread crumbs that lead straight to your front door!

7. Communicate regularly with your children about their online activities and show an interest: encourage them to share their experiences and what they are doing online.

8. Teach children online social responsibility. The internet is an open and shared environment. We can instill in them a sense of community in which all interactions are friendly and fair.

9. Let your children know they can come to you about anything or anyone online without fear of reprisal and, if a problem does arise, it should be dealt with in a calm and rational manner to ensure that your children will continue to confide in you if/ when they encounter problems.

More like this:

Keeping kids safe from abuse
Help your child to be streetwise
How to keep your children safe

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Q When should I have my first pregnancy scan? And how many scans should I get throughout my pregnancy?

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Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.