I think there’s a part of every parent that wants to wrap their kids in cotton wool. I know I do! But the reality is that we can’t. Instead, we need to teach them how to manage risk, think critically and make good decisions so they can life a happy and fulfilling life, both online and offline.
With extended periods of home isolation this year, it’s completely understandable that our kids have spent more time gaming online. Whether it’s the magical world of Decurse for the under 7s, building new worlds in Minecraft, or battling each other in Fortnite, our kids are exposed to others in a virtual world much sooner than we could have ever imagined just a few years ago.
And if they haven’t been gaming, they’ve been connecting online via social media. Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram are without the doubt the favourite playground for older tweens and teens allowing them to connect, cement friendships while they’ve had to spend time at home. And while these platforms are a great way of developing friendships, some find it to creates pressure to be prettiest, the funniest or get the most online validation through likes by others.
In 2020, you’d be hard pressed to find many tweens and teens who don’t have a mobile phone. And with many parents working and juggling, giving our kids have a phone means they can be more independent – which is a win/win for everyone! But, owning an internet connected device is a big responsibility which is often not taken as seriously as it should be by our technology hungry kids.
But without a doubt, the biggest concern of Aussie parents is cyberbullying which mostly affects teens between 12 and 16. Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant recently warned the internet is a more ‘toxic place’ than ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, citing a 32 percent increase in youth-based cyberbullying. So, now more than ever, it is essential that we help our kids develop online smarts so that they are best able to navigate some of the negative aspects on digital life.
So, how do we help them manage the risks that come with being online, keep them safe from cyberbullies and help them to understand that they are not defined by their likes tallies while letting them spread their wings online? Well, here are my top tips to get you started:
Ensuring you have a culture of honest and open communication is your household is a must. Your kids need to know they can come to you about any problem they experience online and that you won’t overreact. They need to know you are there to help them, and you won’t blame them for bringing trouble on themselves.
Weave in cyber safety into your family dialogue
Just as we teach our kids to “Slip Slop Slap” or “Get down low and Go Go Go” we should also be finding memorable and fun ways hammer home messages about cyber safety, like this clever play on a One Direction song from a few years ago. Teach your kids to never share passwords or post personal information (such as a home address), insist their online accounts are always set to private and teach them to only ‘friend’ people they have met in the flesh or know personally, as some people lurk behind fake profiles.
Manage Screen Time Proactively
Develop clear boundaries for screen time – when everyone is calm and not in the heat of the moment! Some families choose to be very directive and draw up a formal document which includes the amount of time that can be spent online, the sites that can be visited, the information that can be shared. Parents often require their kids to sign this document and it becomes a contact.
Develop a Cyberbullying Action Plan
Fingers crossed your kids never experience online bullying but if they do, they need to know what to do. Here is what I recommend. Take screen shots of repeated online bullying, report it to the relevant social media platform, if no luck – contact the eSafety Office here in Australia, block the perpetrator and always report it to a trusted adult.
As parents, our most important job is to raise independent humans who can think critically and make good decisions. So, as tempting as it is to want to wrap them in cotton wool and keep them away from the sometimes tricky online world, doing this is actually doing them a massive disservice. Instead, our job is to coach and guide them so that one day they don’t need us at all!!
McAfee’s Cybermum and Cyber Safety Ambassador for Australia and New Zealand, Alex, is a mother of four boys who juggles family, work, home life, hobbies and her children’s ever growing social lives (on and offline). Like many parents, Alex has concerns about the safety of her children, who are growing up online world. Alex shares her thoughts on internet safety issues through her own experiences, insights and lessons learned, to help keep kids and families safe online.