Updated: Jun 21
8th February 2022 marks Safer Internet Day!
Many of us well-intentioned parents are simply not tuned in to the potential damaging effects of the internet. Or perhaps we are, but we're in denial about it. After all, it’s difficult to hear that something so ubiquitous and something that we have all grown to love and depend on, can be potentially harmful for our kids. I’m going to tell you a fact. The internet wasn’t built for kids. The internet, as wondrous as it is, was never designed in the best interests of the developing child. A third of the people on the internet are children under 18. If we knew that a third of the people on it would be children, would it look like this? What kind of internet would we have built?
There is still a long way to go to ensure the internet is fit for childhood. The Online Harms Bill, with its aim to properly regulate social media companies, video sharing sites and search engines, is still being debated. In its current state, it’s questionable whether it does enough to properly regulate companies to protect children from harmful content. New apps are springing up so quickly, it’s hard to keep up. There is an abundance of different parental controls out there to help protect your child, but let’s remember, kids are like ninjas when it comes to these things. Whether that’s installing VPN, changing the time zone on their phone or hiding apps from the Home Screen, they will find a way to get around them.
But in truth, no amount of online filters or parental safety controls can replace parent supervision and communication. Parenting in the digital age has many challenges and without proper legislation and regulation, the pressure of keeping our kids safe online falls heavily onto our shoulders. Though it may sound daunting, here are some tips to help you.
Phone/Tablet management is a continuous process. Not a 'set it and forget it'. It requires regular check-ups and regular open non- judgemental conversations with your child or young relative. Don't just ask them how school is, ask about what they have enjoyed watching on TikTok lately. Ask them when the last time was that they saw something they didn't like online. How did it make them feel? Share your experiences too and build that trust. Having open conversations may mean it’s more likely that your child will speak up if something harmful were to come their way.
Avoid allowing your children to keep their phones, tablets or laptops in their bedrooms. Keep them in a neutral place like the kitchen until the morning. Not only will they be better protected but they may also get a better night's sleep!
Keeping up with the latest apps and platforms can be a mind field and monitoring usage can feel like a full time job. Check out Common-sense Media for quick easy digestible information on all the latest apps and platforms. Maybe consider starting a monthly Tech club with other like-minded parents where you can share your experiences, any red flags, reviews and tips you’ve come across. It takes a village.
Kids pride themselves on beating the system and getting around every filter or block you put in place. Consider making a second SSID/second WiFi network: like a “guest” network, for only their devices? Keeping their devices segregated to their own network may give you additional options like changing the passwords daily, turning the internet off without disrupting your other devices, etc.
Check their devices randomly and often – ensure that when you gave them the device in the first place, having you checking was part of the deal. Then ask them to show you some of the content they have created so you become a regular part of their online world.
Try not to be overwhelmed by this digital minefield. You've got this, and I've got you :)