Many of our teen children are spending more time on electronic devices, playing online games on a phone or connecting with friends on social media. Keeping socially connected is important at this time of physical distancing but as caregivers we have to remain very aware about how our children are using technology. Age-inappropriate games, online bullying, fake news and adults sending friend requests to teens are all very real threats to our children’s safety and mental health at a time when they may be more vulnerable because of their desire to socialise.
If you think that your child is not old enough to access online platforms, stay firm and explain the reasons why. But, if your child is accessing the internet, here are some tips to help you keep your children safe online:
Put on parental controls on all devices including mobile phones and games consoles. Safe search settings can also be activated on Google and other search engines as well as YouTube. There are also alternate kid-friendly versions of apps such as YouTube for Kids, and Kiddle (Google for kids).
Talk about using the internet
Talk to your child about how they use the internet and ask them to show you what they do. Discuss with them the kinds of things they might come across. A good time to talk is when they talk about a new game or new website.Encourage your child to talk to you if they see something that upsets them or makes them feel uncomfortable online. If your child feels that they can come to you in, they are much less likely to be taken advantage of online. Don’t be afraid to bring up challenging issues like sexting or cyberbullying
Benefits and risks of social networking
Talk to children about the benefits and risks of social networking before they join any sites. Let them know that anything they upload, email or message could stay around forever online.
Agree and set boundaries with your child when it comes to their internet use before they get used to doing their own thing. For example, they should only use devices in a shared areas of the home, such as the kitchen, and only for a limited time. You could set an alarm to go off after the agreed amount of time.
Follow age ratings
Follow age ratings. The age ratings that come with games, apps, films and social networks are a good guide to whether they’re suitable for your child. For example, the age limit is 13 for several social networking sites including Facebook and Instagram.
Using their instincts
Teach your child to trust their instincts. If they see something online that makes them feel any negative emotion, then there is good reason for them to feel that way and they should act on it. The best way to act is to tell someone they trust.
Remind them they should only do things online that they wouldn’t mind you, their teacher or a future employer seeing. Children often feel they can say things online that they wouldn’t say face-to-face. Teach them to always have respect for themselves and others online.
If you have agreed for your teenager to have a social media account, teach them to block or ignore people and how to set strict privacy settings. Request that you or someone you both trust becomes their ‘friend’ or ‘follower’ to check that conversations and posts are appropriate.
Accepting Friend Requests
Help your teen to be smart when it comes to accepting new friend requests. Before accepting any requests, your child should check the person’s profile to get a better sense of who they are, and if they have any friends common. You child should not feel under pressure to accept random friend requests. Talk to your teen about how some people pretend to be someone they are not and it’s hard to know if they are telling the truth about who they are.