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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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