While parenting in the digital age can feel overwhelming, especially since we're the first generation of parents figuring this out, it doesn't have to be so daunting. Whilst high-profile incidents will nearly always grab attention in the news (and it is often misused social media content that makes the headlines) there are ways to mitigate your own child's risks. In an ideal world we would be sitting our kids down and chatting knowledgably about cyber safety long before they get their hands on their first digital device but, hey, I for one know that parenting can sometimes be messy, unscheduled and hectic beyond belief with time at a premium most days. Not to mention sifting through all the advice out there. I am sure it makes many of us want to give up even before the kettle's boiled!! With this in mind I have endeavoured to give my thoughts on the process as one who has navigated these stormy waters- not once, but twice- and has not capsized yet!!
Whether your child is a seasoned ‘Facebooker’ or about to own their first smart phone it’s never too late to have ‘The Talk’.
I am a mother of both primary and post primary school children so I am well aware that this can be a daunting prospect. But the sooner you show interest in your child’s online activities the sooner you can help them start to make the right decisions with the apps they choose (or the ones you decide upon together) and outline your family's code of conduct for behaviour online.
Even if your child is already digital savvy (which is not the same as digital safety savvy) it’s never too late to reset boundaries- new apps and new technologies come along all the time. As in "Snaphack" who recently changed their name to "Sneekaboo" - no doubt to avoid the negative connotation with ‘hack'- but it’s still the same app that retains pictures sent via Snapchat (undoubtedly the messaging app of choice for the majority of tweens and teens).
If you are left feeling that your child now has full control over their digital device and that attempting, at this late stage, to change their online behaviour would be akin to asking them to clear their bedroom of their floor-drobe then let me put it another way…..just because your child can read, would you let Fifty Shades Of Grey grace your family bookshelf? If you censor the reading material in your home, then the same should be ongoing with your child’s online activity.
My thoughts….. (and not another exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts)
- You do not have to be an expert on the apps or games they are into (that's what immunizeNet's resource library is here for). Start by having an idea of what is going on in their cyber world...the latest apps and games available..and then ask what they like online and why. Listen without judgement and make a note of the apps/games they mention so you can look them up in more detail in your own time on our website. Only you can decide what is suitable for your child.
- Think about the possibility of having some sort of ‘agreement’ that comes with ownership of the digital device...downloaded apps are agreed upon, phones out of bedrooms after 9pm, location services for social media apps turned off, only allowing one messaging app that is age appropriate, parents ability to check phone when requested (see postscript below), no phones at dining table/family time.
- Keep private things private. I cannot resist the analogy of the mother who walks down the high street handing out the family holiday snapshots to all and sundry. Just imagine how embarrassed your child could possibly be. The same is happening to all pictures sent via apps, particularly with no privacy settings in place or where numerous ‘friends’ have been accepted. Which leads me onto my next thought……
- Please don’t believe everything you see or read. Your child has just got to understand that Mary Jane in Connaught may love to be ‘friends’ and ‘share’ and may have the face of an angel but unless you actually, physically KNOW her then she could just as easily be Tyson Ellis from Tent City Jail in Phoenix, USA!! Unfriend, unshare and set those privacy settings!!
- I think it’s important to be kind, respectful and thoughtful when communicating online. I realise that we have no control over the verbal communication our children have when they are away from us but I am sure that they are well aware of certain behaviours that would have our eyebrows knitted in scorn. The same has to go for their online chats etc. So set the parameters of what is the acceptable online 'code of conduct' for your family. Also let them know that they can come to you if they have concerns over any online activity. Creating a ‘non-judgemental’ environment for them helps to bring these concerns out into the open and assists in eliminating opportunities for cyber bullying. One piece of advice that I remember from my childhood, but is as relevant today as it was then, is to count to 10 before replying. Ever more prevalent in these days of mass communication that is sent at the touch of a button.
The internet is an amazing resource. It will be with us for the foreseeable future and beyond so there has to be an element of embracing it if we are to keep in step with our future generation. I am not suggesting that those of us who are lesser endowed with an IT savvy brain should suddenly embark on a further learning IT course or take a healthy interest in ‘coding’ but I am recommending that we should keep one toe in the cyber waters ever washing against us…after all our children are precious to us so it would be nice to know where the lifebuoy is even if we haven’t learnt to swim!
Postscript…Upon deliverance of the hallowed device I also made it a rule that I had the right to check my child's phone to see what apps they had downloaded, what friends they had on Facebook and to check their online behaviour. Their agreement to this caveat ensured that they would be allowed to keep their newest and most prized possession (and it also surprised me when they handed it over without a squeak). I only had to check once or twice for the light-bulb moment to hit that smart phones were a privilege that comes with responsibilities and not a rite of passage. I am sure there are those out there who deride such a practice; citing a child’s right to privacy or freedom of expression etc., but ultimately there is nothing truly private on the internet.....pictures pop up that have been routinely harvested from social media sites, ‘friends’ are free to negatively comment on (and ‘share’) your child’s newest blog pic etc. So a little parental intervention can go a long way to ensuring that our childs digital experiences are as positive as possible.
And after all, as I like to remind my children from time to time, I am the parent……..........so there!!!