What you need to know about keeping your child safe online
Launching your child into the big bad online world can be nerve-wracking.
Parents and kids need to be aware of the rewards and risks, according to Niall Mulrine, cyber safety expert. Here are Niall’s top tips for handling family life online:
1. Maturity matters
“The decision about when a child should have a phone, smart device or social media accounts really comes down to your assessment of their maturity,” Niall advises. “It’s not about age, but about being ready and you know that best. Discuss the issue openly and don’t cave in to pressure. It’s a good idea to sit down with your child and show them how social media works. Show them the pitfalls and make sure they know what they’re doing.”
2. Use technology to manage technology
“Parents do need to make sure they’re using the right apps and software to manage what their children can access online,” Niall points out. “There are lots of tools that will block particular sites. You can also adjust the settings on your search engine and there are apps and software to monitor activity online. Read the reviews and find what will work best for you.” Niall recommends Net Nanny for phones, computers and Tablets.
3. Preparation is everything
“Always tell your kids about how great the Internet is and what fun you can have, but make sure they are aware of possible risks, like bullying (Niall has detailed advice on cyberbullying on his blog) or being approached by people using the Internet to target children. Let your kids know that they should come straight to you if there’s a problem. Tell them that if they see something inappropriate to close the tab or the screen, shut down the device, and come to you.”
4. Keep the conversation open
“Ideally, you want to have a situation where everyone in the family is open about what they’re doing online,” Niall says. “That way, the first thing a child will do when they come across a problem – whether it’s cyberbullying or sexual approaches – is come straight to you. There is research to show that communication with parents will raise the children’s awareness and respect for themselves online. Keep things open so that your child knows they can confide in someone about activity online that is disturbing them.”
5. Don’t overreact
“It’s not a good idea to suddenly ban children from social media or take their phone from them if they do run into a problem,” Niall advises. “Often, a parent will immediately order the child to delete their accounts, or stop them going online. The fear of that reaction will sometimes stop the child from actually coming forward and telling you they have a problem. Or, it can mean the child doesn’t get to tell you the full story, because you haven’t listened before you issued the ban. Keep the conversation going and make sure your kids feel comfortable talking to you openly about what they’re doing and seeing online. That way, you can prepare them for what might happen and help them to handle that.”
6. Be careful of ‘sharenting’
“Over sharing images of your children is not a good idea.” Niall says, pointing to a recent AVG survey that showed a quarter of all unborn children have a digital footprint. “If parents are posting lots of photos, then young children don’t have a say in their online lives, because they’re already mapped out for them. A picture of the child sitting naked in the bath might be cute when they’re two, but they may have to bear the brunt of teasing when they’re older and all their friends see it.
“The other thing to know is that there are people collecting photos of children and selling them on to the porn market. Parents need to remember that once they hit the ‘post’ button, the pictures are out of their hands. Parents are learning as they’re going along. The problem is that sometimes they’re learning from mistakes and those could be serious”.
7. Be a good online role model
“Parents will often spend hours online when they get home in the evenings,” Niall notes. “It’s difficult for working parents if they have to check email. One parent that I worked with said she had regained a lot of her time with her little son by limiting her online activity to after the child’s bedtime.
“You could also have a situation where mum and dad are sitting in the same room and Facebooking each other instead of talking. Children see this and think that that’s the way people should interact. If you watch young people sitting together in a coffee shop, much of the time they’re not interacting face-to-face, instead they’re posting messages to social media. They’re not actually living their experiences.
“Children can also get addicted to their screens and certain games. That leads to more aggressive behaviour. Parents can set an example by limiting their own screen time and focusing on family activities that don’t involve screens.”
Niall Mulrine is an IT consultation and cyber safety expert. He gives workshops to children, parents and teachers around the country. He also provides information and advice through the blog on his website.