Children are social media pioneers – they have grown up using these platforms as a primary source of communication and entertainment. They are also prime targets for algorithms that are designed to keep them engaged. As such they are vulnerable – to bullying, to fraudulent communications, to distressing content and to excess use that may be harmful to their physical and mental health. How can parents help to protect kids online just as they do in the home and on the street? How can we teach young people to manage their own social media and game use in a healthy way?
On Tuesday 21st and Thursday 23rd of November, as part of Galway Science and Technology Festival, Insight Education and Public Engagement Manager Brendan Smyth held two of his popular cyber safety workshops for school students and their parents. The events were fully booked but for those who couldn’t be there, Brendan has shared some advice for keeping children safe online.
Top Ten Tips to Keep Kids Safe Online:
- Familiarise yourself with the social media platforms and games that your children are using. You need to be able to talk to them from an informed position. Where possible, set up your own account(s) on the relevant platforms. Ask your child what particular games and platforms they are using, and also ask others – older siblings, other parents etc.
- Have the ‘big talk’ when your children are still pre-teens and make it clear that there will be a structure and controls in place around the use of devices – when, where, which platforms, your level of access as a parent etc. Explain to them why certain platforms and games are designed for older people and not supposed to be accessed by children. Emphasise the importance too of respect towards others online just as it would be in the real world.
- Set a good example. You can’t expect your children to switch off at mealtimes or not to have smart devices in the bedroom if you don’t do the same.
- Try to practice regular ‘digital detox’ nights even if only once a week.
- Explain to your children that games and social media platforms are designed to be addictive. The services are free because the users are the product. It’s not their fault that they are drawn to their devices but it is the responsibility of parents to help them manage that.
- The ‘big talk’ is just the beginning. You need to keep a dialogue going about what’s happening online and your children need to feel confident that they can talk to you if something goes wrong online. Tell them explicitly that they should come to you if they do something wrong online or if wrong is done to them. They need to know that you will not overreact and that you understand the pressure they may feel online.
- Your children may as they get older find ways to get around your supervision – second accounts for example. This is normal but keeping the dialogue open will make it more likely that they will talk to you if something online is worrying them.
- Keep an eye on their accounts (the ones you know of) but NEVER comment as a parent on their socials. Be a shadow in the background.
- Don’t forget gaming platforms. Many, like Fortnite, also have a social media element. Some game content can be very adult. Get to know the content they are consuming.
- New platforms are emerging all the time – online safety is a process of continuous education.
If your school or parents’ group is interested in holding a cyber safety workshop, you can contact Brendan at email@example.com