Today is Safer Internet Day 2021 and so I thought it the perfect time to take stock and remind ourselves of how important it is that we are aware how our kids are using the internet.
The internet has opened up a whole new world to kids of all ages. Entertainment is on demand and the answer to every question can be found at the touch of a button. It’s brought the world closer, families together and new opportunities to our fingertips. It’s been the only way families can see each other in lockdowns and through the multiple communication platforms it’s helped the lonely, not feel so alone during these hard times.
What we do matters
However, it’s up to us, as parents, to guide and educate our children on responsible use of the internet and to empower them to use technology creatively and respectfully.
Safer Internet Day 2021 is a reminder that our influence has a significant impact on our children’s safety in the digital world. We are their role models and how we use our devices, internet use, social media and online photos will directly influence their behaviour. Now might be a good time to put down your phone and truly engage with them. If we’re always found behind a screen, what right have we got to tell them otherwise?
Be open, be honest and have frank discussions about the importance of online safety and digital footprints. Long gone are the days where arguments started and ended in a playground. As kids get older, so their conversations, disputes and gossip heads online. They need to take responsibility and more than ever, they need to always be kind.
The following are simple guidelines to keeping your child safe online – not only for Safer Internet Day 2021, but for all future use:
- Be familiar with the internet – you need to understand the risks so you can explain them clearly to your children. Likewise, you need to know how best they can use it to advance in the digital age.
- Make the rules – set some rules so your kids know what’s expected of them. Don’t wait for something bad to happen before you enforce any boundaries.
- Keep personal information private – your children need to know how important it is to keep phone numbers, addresses, bank details etc. private and passwords safe. If they are aware of dangers such as fraud and online theft from an early age, high levels of online privacy will be the norm.
- Only share something if they’re truly comfortable – it’s so important that our kids are aware of the consequences of personal photos, chats and information being shared online for all to see. Once they’ve shared something, it can be shared by anyone – literally it’s there for the world to see. While most of the world won’t be interested, it’s all too common for private photos to get into the wrong hands, gossip to be spread like wildfire and personal information to be used to gain trust. If your child is on social media, the highest privacy settings should be used and you need to advise them on what’s ok to share and what isn’t. They should only befriend people they know – never accept a follow/friend request from a stranger.
- Not everyone is who they say they are – another reason for people only befriending people they know is that online personas are so easy to fake. Stranger danger is just as real online – and in fact, even more important. They need to know that they never share any information with a stranger – even if they seem to be a child their own age.
- Be there – Your children need to know that you are there for them no matter what. If they get in trouble online, the worst thing they can do is try and hide it from you. Even if following all the correct protocols. Kids can still get into trouble online. We need to talk to them, talk with them and talk some more. Open and honest conversations lead to open and honest relationships.
- Remind them of their worth – social media is great until it’s not. It can be hard to deal with as an adult, let alone as a hormonal teenager. One of the biggest problems with social media is children start to get their self-confidence from the number of likes they receive. The problem with this is that it’s fake. It’s up to us to teach them that confidence comes from within and while it’s nice to get a boost from time to time, how many likes they get really doesn’t reflect who they are as a person. They need to find their own self-worth otherwise they’ll face crises in confidence throughout their adult life.
- Be Kind – cyber bullying is very real and very upsetting. It can also be dangerous to mental health. One of the most important lessons we can teach our kids is to be kind. They also need to know they can come to us if they ever find themselves wrapped up in any form of cyber bullying.
If you have younger kids, these issues may not affect you just yet. However, Safer Internet Day 2021 is the perfect time to be aware of all the issues that may arise further down the line and start the communication now. In the meantime, there are ways to ensure your younger child is safe online:
- Keep the computer/device in a common area – this will reduce the risk of them talking to strangers or visiting sites they shouldn’t.
- Child-friendly search engines – are great for younger children who don’t yet need access to Google. KidTopia and KidRex are good examples.
- Use parental controls – Windows and Mac OS X have parental controls that can be activated. These include time limits, website restrictions and control over which apps can be opened.
If nothing else, let’s use today to look at our own use of devices, try and minimize screen time while maximizing family time. We are their role models. If we don’t understand the pros and cons, how will they?
Keeping my own kids safe online is an ongoing struggle. The internet has enriched all of our lives beyond belief and will continue to do so. But unless our kids are educated on how to use it along with the dangers that lurk underneath the surface, they will become easy targets. For more information about keeping kids safe online, read my post here on social media and self worth and here for the most commonly used internet acronyms used by kids.