I get this question thrown at me often, so thought I’d put together a quick and fast guide for parents. But first, I’ll frame it for you:
I was recently asked to help by a family who had a lot of questions around their child’s online life. She was, very clearly, battling with something and her parents had come up feeling helpless when trying to assist her. One of the first things I did when they asked me to help them was take a look at the girl’s online life – what she shared publicly on social media platforms. And what I found horrified me. Not because of the content (although that was horrifying enough), but because it was very clear to me that, while her parents themselves had their own very active online lives, they had zero knowledge of their child’s. Of course, they knew she had accounts, they bought her the airtime and the mobile phone but, when it came to actually knowing what was going on or talking to her about the sometimes weird and wild worlds of online life, they hadn’t said a word.
Have the conversation
Simply put, we wouldn’t hand over the keys of a brand new car to someone who doesn’t have a clue how to drive. No, we’d take them for lessons or hop in the car to demonstrate how gears work and the like. In the same way, lets teach our children the ways of the online world. And it starts easily, with a conversation that outlines what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Moreover, there are rules you can set up together, to make sure your child has a happy and healthy relationship both with and through technology. Having those conversations and laying down those rules together not only helps to keep things tidy, but also mean your kid always knows they can come to you if and when a problem occurs. Figure out when you think it would be appropriate for your child to include technology as part of their life and remember that this is most definitely an evolving conversation that will transform as your child grows. Show them the ins and outs of security or privacy settings and run them through the kinds of content they should and shouldn’t be posting online.
Software isn’t enough
Yes, there is an abundance of monitoring tools and nifty software you can use to keep tabs on your kid’s online life, but nothing can replace a parental eye. In an interview with DigiKids, renowned author Nikki Bush had this to say about monitoring your child’s online life :
“Whilst monitoring tools are useful and important, software cannot protect your child from stupidity…when children are toddlers and are learning how to climb a jungle gym, parents don’t just let them loose on the equipment. You help them, guide them and then supervise them. It’s the same with technology and the online world…Parents must commit to teaching their children about the online world, just as they teach them the rules of the road and other important rules for life”.
So you’ve had the conversations, set out the rules and check in regularly to see how your kid is experiencing the online world and seen that they’re managing it well… and then an issue hits – someone posted a nasty comment online or they’re being harassed in some way. Firstly, well done – your kid came to you with the problem. Secondly, now is the time to act. Not later, not tomorrow and most definitely not when you think you’ll deal with it later because it might just go away. Empower your child to use tools that protect them – show them how to report inappropriate content and block people if necessary. If the person who is harassing them is known to them through school or a social circle, it’s time to intervene – to make that phone call to their parents or to the school. Yes, it can be difficult to confront. But no, it should not be tolerated.
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