Communication is a key ingredient to keep our children safe online. Parents now need to add another skill to their repertoire - digital parenting. There is an increasing amount of information and support to help parents navigate the every changing digital environment.
My younger kids had an eSafety focus day at school yesterday, and parents were invited to a session in the evening about keeping your kids safe on the internet. I was delighted to hear them promote communication as a key tool to eSafety.
There are lots of technological products and software available to block unsavoury content or kids' usage of the internet. However I believe the best method to teach children how to use the internet safely, is through effective communication. Kids will still have access to the internet in settings outside of your control.
My 7 year old, knew all about the dangers of the internet and methods to use when he got stuck. I also have a 16 year old and have experienced parenting through more advanced usage of the internet.
We like to think of the three C's of internet safety as Communication, Content and Common Sense.
Communication is the most important. In my experience, only when your child feels safe to speak to you openly about their experiences online, can you have a positive impact.
Listening and taking an active interest is a key element. I want my child to feel he can speak to me about something that is upsetting without feeling I will take away his access to the internet. It is an ongoing process as they grow older and their exposure to more internet usage increases and changes. At first they may just use the internet for gathering information and playing games with friends, but later they start to interact through sharing photos and messages.
Listen and communicate regularly about internet safety.
As parents we play a vital role in talking with our kids about safe ways to use the internet. I believe we also have a duty towards other parents to teach our children to use the internet safely when they are not with us.
The internet is an exciting place for kids, there is lots of information to explore and many ways to use it in a positive way. Here at Tech Age Kids we promote the creative use of technology. But we also understand the dangers it could pose for our kids.
The internet has a huge amount of content. Content comes in various forms - videos, photos, text, games, and music. And not all content on the internet is appropriate for kids. This is probably the area where parents struggle the most. How do you restrict what content they have access to on the internet?
We like to think of it differently. Rather than restrict content, we promote the safe us of content. Even if you have strict content blockers at home, kids have access to the internet at friends homes, or on mobile devices on the playground. Of course we have a duty of care that our kids are not exposed to bad content, and that is where communication comes in again.
You can teach kids how to surf the internet safely, what to do when they identify "bad" content and provide suitable parental supervision.
My teen, for example, uses a browser which doesn't show any ads. He chooses not to participate on certain websites and social media communities which makes him feel vulnerable. We have never restricted the internet at home but rather spend a lot of time talking about appropriate and safe use.
With my younger kids, we tend to use the internet together. They love watching videos on Youtube or find photos for a project which can sometimes bring up inappropriate content. We now use Kids Youtube on our tablet, which is a fantastic resource for kids, cutting out the ads and comments of videos on Youtube.
Teach kids to access age appropriate content.
Different content is appropriate for different ages, and that is why we feel age restrictions are really important. It really isn't appropriate for a 7 year old to play 18 rated games. And social media sites have an age limit for a reason. Kids don't necessarily have the emotional maturity to deal with the content available in these games and websites.
We believe parents play a vital part in guiding children towards content that is appropriate for their age. Parents also have a duty to each other, to help stop comments like: "my friend plays Grand Theft Auto, why can't I?" when they are 10 and actually the game content is appropriate for adults.
Common sense can go a long way in using the internet safely.
- Just like you wouldn't put your name, address and telephone number on a huge billboard in the middle of a city, you don't share your private information online.
- Just like you wouldn't talk to a stranger at the local park, you don't accept friend request from people you don't know.
- Just like you wouldn't behave rudely to a friend on the playground, you don't engage with cyber-bullying online.
These are common sense behaviours you would naturally do every day, and as parents we need to continue to translate what that would mean online for our children.
Teaching kids basic common sense skills, like respect, privacy, and filtering content can go a long way in keeping our children safe online.
Teach respect, privacy and content filtering
Every child will be different and a blanket one-solution-fits-all is not necessarily the answer. As parents of a tech age, we need to apply our common sense, be a good example and keep on communicating with our kids. It really isn't realistic to keep them locked away from the internet. The internet is a wonderful place with lots of exciting and fun things for kids to explore.
Digital parenting is probably one of the biggest challenges parents face today, and we are all still learning. Technology changes at an enormous pace and so teaching good behaviour is far more valuable than restricting access and use.
Useful Resources for eSafety
The resources below is our top picks out a vast number of online resources to help parents keep kids safe online.
- Kidpower - Great resource to teach the right behaviours
- Kidsmart - Lots of practical advice on internet safety
- Common Sense Media - A great resource for parents on games, websites, and digital parenting issues
- Think U Know - Stay on top of the latest information about websites and technologies kids access
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