You can’t protect a child from bad choices but, as a parent, you can pre-empt them by teaching them how to make good choices. Once they make a bad choice online, it can be equivalent to the angst and challenges of reformatting a hard drive when a computer has crashed.
Click the image below to listen to Nikki Bush discussing this topic in more detail, and then read the list of activities below which she has suggested to help you handle this.
Installing all the software and filters in the world without having conversations with children about digital safety and online netiquette is only half the battle won. Digital safety consists of a technical element as well as a human behaviour element. The technical stuff is easy, and if it isn’t, then pay for a consultant to help you as you would in any other aspect of your life such as using an investment advisor for your financial affairs, a lawyer in legal matters and a psychologist if should find yourself losing your mind.
Teach them to navigate the information superhighway safely
The behaviour stuff – how you and your children actually use social media and technology, takes much more time and effort to crack. Many parents give up before they have even begun because the journey to being a responsible user of on-screen media takes many a conversation, and children who think they know it all, may give you attitude. But having the conversations and using issues in the news as teachable moments is essential if you want to protect your children. Would you have let your toddler walk across a busy road unaided? I think not. Well this is the same situation. The busy road just happens to be the internet superhighway in this instance.
Children learn through repetition
You will have to have the same conversation from many different angles over and over again. Note that I am using the word ‘conversation’, not lecture or speech. Children today do not respond well to the latter. They need more conversations that matter and fewer speeches that don’t. At a talk I gave to grade 7 – 12’s recently, a number of learners came to me afterwards and thanked me for not talking down at them, for meeting them at their level and for making it conversational rather than a lecture. I was blown away at their directness and ability to isolate what worked for them.
Digital safety and responsible online behaviour is not so much about high tech but more about high touch and the nature and quality of relationships and communication at home. It is you, not software that will protect your child from their own stupidity online.
The internet and social media gives your children thousands and thousands of opportunities to practice making good choices. Watch what they are doing, applaud positive use of social media and be there to guide and facilitate better choice making should your child trip up or be on the receiving end of unsavoury online behaviour.
Reminder: World Safer Internet Day is on 9 February 2016. Use this as a conversation starter with your children! For more ideas read the activity list below.
Make time to talk, face-to-face, without the distractions of television, computers or cellphones, whatever the age of your child. It’s one of the best investments in your relationship that you will ever make.
Babies 0 – 2:
Changing, feeding time and playtime should be maximised here. Vary your tone, pitch and pace of voice depending on whether you are preparing them for bed or preparing them for the day. Gentle tones are soothing and reassuring while being more animated wakes them up and engages them. As a parent, your voice, your face and your unique smell are the most important things to your little tot in making them feel connected and secure in your presence. Believe it or not, developing a strong relationship with your child, based on trust in the early years, is vital to keeping them safe online in the later years.
Preschool 3 – 6, Primary school 7 – 13 and High school 14 – 18:
- Use dinner time and time spent in the car or on public transport to connect with your children without a screen running interference between you. Make it a family value to connect as human beings, face-to-face, on a regular basis. So really see and hear each other.
- When there is time to talk, both parents and children naturally raise things they have seen or experienced for discussion. When there is no time to talk things remain hidden and conversation opportunities may be lost. Without regular, natural communication through conversation, eventually parents eventually have resort to giving ‘A Speech’ or having ‘The Talk’. This turns kids off instantly and is counter-productive to relationship building. Make the time.
- Use stories about where social media and technology have gone wrong to have constructive discussions with your children regarding their online safety. Read this blog about The Crush Porn Saga , it may provide some food for thought and discussion around the dinner table.
- You need to role model good communication to your children from a young age or you will find your kids disconnecting from you and turning to a screen to fill the void. If there is something you want to change in yourself, don’t wait, start now. There are no re-do’s with childhood.
Primary school 7 – 13 and High school 14 – 18:
- Switch your browser to Safe Search mode. If you don’t know what to do, just ask Google how to do this with your particular browser.
- Once your children reach the age of 10, you may want to consider installing some third party on-device safety software to enable you to monitor your child’s use of their devices, apps and the internet. There are many other things you can do with such software such as blocking them from using apps when they should be studying or doing homework, disabling in-app purchases and tracking your child’s movements for the day or even for months at a time.
- Applaud positive choices your children make regarding social media and technology. The more they practice doing constructive things, and the better you know the media they are using, the safer they will be.
- Watch this video clip about family safety and on-device safety software.
- Read the best-selling book Tech-Savvy Parenting by Nikki Bush & Arthur Goldstuck
Creative parenting expert, speaker and co-author of Tech-Savvy Parenting (Bookstorm, 2014), Future-proof Your Child (Penguin, 2008), and Easy Answers to Awkward Questions (Metz Press, 2009)