help your kids to stay safe on the internet
Tricky stuff

Help your kids to stay safe on the internet

Are your children starting to make you feel digitally challenged? Alana Kirk offers up some tips on how to get cyber savvy so you can help your kids to stay safe on the internet.

Every generation is different to the one before it, and that has made parenting what it is since the first cave mothers told their evolved children to stay away from the fire beast.

The day I realised just how different mine was to my daughter’s, was when she asked me what age I was when I got my first mobile phone.

“30,” I say.

She laughs that laugh that says ‘yeah right’ and without a single second of contemplation that this might not be the truth she stops laughing and says, “No. Seriously. How old were you?”

“30,” I repeat.

Her face falters. Then she laughs again, slightly less heartily. “No. Really. How old?”


Her face stalls. She cannot comprehend it. Even as I explain that there were no mobile phones when I was young, no internet, no email, and no tablets her face registers nothing but total incomprehension.

My generation has grown up in the furiously changing evolution of technology. We have embraced it to varying degrees and are considered savvy ‘users.’ My nine-year-old daughter and her seven and four-year-old sisters are growing up in a world we could never have imagined at that age. They are (what is called) digital natives. Technology and all its wonders are as integral and integrated with living as reading and TV.

The second time I realised how our generations differ is when my daughter started hounding me to get off the computer where I’m working as she needed it for homework…

Be cyber-safe

The world of knowledge at their fingertips is an exciting and imaginative place, and is already proving an educational backdrop to learning. (Part of my daughter’s daily homework involves a timed maths test on the computer, and a recent project used Google images extensively.)

But, and this is a big BUT, that world is also filled with danger and pitfalls. And just as our responsibility as parents is to guide our children through the rules and challenges of the real world, so it is imperative we understand, and then guide them through the virtual one.

This is not a time to say I’m ‘not into this’ or ‘don’t understand that.’ As parents we have to stay one step ahead. That means googling terms, talking to other parents, and being aware and in control of what our children have access to.

help your kids to stay safe on the internet

It’s time to get techno

As someone who would consider themselves a basic techno, this is a real challenge for me. Luckily I have a techy friend (we all have one) and we share our skills – I give her healthy recipes and she gives me internet safety guidelines. I just try and keep an eye on what they are doing and research anything I don’t quite understand.

In the last six months alone I’ve had to figure out how to play Minecraft (so I know what my children are playing), figure out who Stampy Longhead is (my seven-year-old’s guilty pleasure) and make the hugely unpopular decision to remove YouTube from all child-accessible devices. I will download it, find what they’re looking for and let them watch something, but only in my presence – they are not allowed (or able) to access YouTube without a parent there.

Despite controls, they saw an x-rated horror movie trailer on a friend’s iPad and we had a week of sleepless nights!

Parental controls

Research and install parental controls as the first line of defence against harmful access. Google, for example, has Google Safe Search, which screens sites with sexually explicit content and removes them from search results. Moderate Safe Search is the default , but you can change the filter to Strict. This is also available on smart phones.

The other big attraction for children is YouTube, which, as well as having community guidelines for content, also has a Safety Mode, but as I found out, it’s not fool proof.


Be one step ahead. Try and make sure you know what your children are playing, watching and searching. The best filter is you. Ask other parents, research online or seek guidance (see list of helpful websites below). Set clear rules and boundaries from the start.

From the moment your toddler grabs your mobile and starts playing games, think about the rules you want to enforce. In five years’ time when all your children have screens, do you want them all on their phones during dinner? If not, start now with a ‘no screens at table rule’ – and that means yours.

Set clear daily time limits (mine can only have theirs after homework, and never after 6pm) and activity limits (games, movies, music, social networks).

Be vigilant and knowledgeable but most of all, keep talking to them. Keeping an open discussion about usage and pitfalls means you can guide them safely through the virtual world around them and have a smart family life.

Safe Surfing

No filtering or monitoring software can replace parental supervision, and helping your child develop good decision-making skills and a strong sense of what is acceptable is important in the virtual world as much as the real world. Remember: Content, Contact, Conduct and Commercialism.


Being surf-wise is vital. As well as the relevant parental controls, talk to them about content they may inadvertently come across and what to do if they see something that upsets or confuses them.


Up to a certain age you can control who they are in contact with. But once they start joining social networking sites it is vital they understand the importance of privacy and the pitfalls of giving away personal information. It is really important to point out that information shared online will be around forever.


Like the playground and school yard, the internet is a social environment where rules apply. Talk at length about issues around bullying, both in terms of how hurtful unthoughtful comments can be, or how they might deal with a threatening situation.


Make sure your children are aware that many things on the internet or smart devices cost money such as apps, extras on games, music and movies.

Useful websites

More like this:

Cyber safety
Persistence pays
Keeping kids safe from abuse


Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.


Positive behaviour support

Psychologist Gillian Martin explains why positive behaviour support could be key to understanding tantrums.


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.