On Safer Internet Day, our online safety experts Dan Donahoo (DD) and Katie Costello (KC) answered some questions parents ask about how to keep their kids safe online.
How much time should my kids be spending online?
KC: There’s no hard and fast rule about this, but it’s very much about creating a positive balance of healthy behaviours. That includes moderating your own use of screen time and creating an agreement, set of rules or even a family media plan, where you work out together what is suitable for your family.
DD: Not all screen time is equal. A child using a screen to do homework is very different to sitting in front of YouTube. It’s about you spending time with your child and understanding what works for them, and bringing those parenting skills to say “OK, we’re going to finish now”.
The main take away – Find out how your kids are using their devices, and work with them to create a family technology plan that works for the whole family.
How do I stop my child from finding harmful content online, without having to watch them all the time?
KC: This one is a bit tricky, because you can’t completely stop them from coming across content that is inappropriate or harmful. But you can teach them about being safe online and help them to navigate the internet more safely. Teach them about positive behaviours online and role model this, have discussions at home and point out different ways they can get involved in the online community in a positive way.
DD: It’s important to let your child know if they do see anything inappropriate or are exposed to harmful content online, they can come to you and tell you about it, so you can support them. It’s a greater concern if they see some stuff and they keep it to themselves.
The main take away – Reinforce what positive online content is, and let your kids know they can come to you if they see anything upsetting.
How do I trust my kids will be getting a positive experience online? Sometimes it feels easier just to ban them from going online completely.
KC: Banning very rarely works, even for young children. There’s more value in ensuring they have a positive experience online. It comes back to fostering open communication and doing things together to have those positive discussions.
DD: Sometimes it won’t be positive, and as parents we will need to recognise that that’s OK. Our children’s ability to adapt and deal with negative situations is an important part of their development. So once again, emphasise the importance of that role we play as parents, to be there in those moments when they need our support.
The main take away – Banning technology never works; having a relationship with open communication is key for support.
If I think my child is being bullied online, what should I be looking out for and what should I do?
DD: Online bullying can be hard to detect. It’s sometimes very difficult to detect behavioural changes and identify bullying. So it’s really good to explicitly ask your child, “is anything wrong?” Create the space and the opportunity, as it shows that you care for them.
KC: There are some children who aren’t very forthcoming, and they don’t want to share bad stuff that has happened online. There is a general fear that they’ll get their mobile devices taken from them, and that can lead to potentially further social isolation. Tell them this isn’t the case. Also talk about where to go online to report online abuse or offensive content.
The main take away – Directly ask your kids if you think something’s up and remind them they won’t have their devices taken away if something has happened.