As parents, we know there will be conversations that will be difficult to start with our children and parenting in a digital age means there is another one to add to the list! Engaging in productive and positive conversations with our children about “Staying Safe Online” is difficult but it is crucial to helping our children create a positive digital footprint and to ensure they make the right choices about their online activity.
Like all the difficult parenting conversations, Staying Safe Online dialog is an ongoing one and will change as they get older, but if you start early the positive choices that the children make should become second nature.
When having a dialog about Staying safe online it is important that we create an environment where the children feel they can come to us, their parent(s), with topics that they may be embarrassed about or have difficulty talking about, they need to know that we will not be judgmental and will listen to them without the fear of being scolded or having restrictions placed on them. This will allow us to work together to come up with a solution to the challenge. No matter what the solution is it’s important that we work together. A family agreement is a great way to start the Staying Safe online dialog and to keep it going with regular check-ins and modifications as and when needed.
It’s important to create the right environment for the conversation to happen, choose a time where you are due to spend time together, and make sure there are no distractions so that you have their full attention. For a younger child, you could talk to them during their bedtime routine if this involves a story.
It is easier to start the staying safe online conversations with children at an early age. One way to do this is using books, there are plenty of books available on this topic in a story format that you can read to a younger child. Your local library may have many stories for younger children about staying safe online, if not they can be purchased. I would advise that you give them a read first just to make sure they are appropriate for your child.
An example of where the book may not have inappropriate content is one we recently purchased for our children about keeping secrets. Our children are told not to keep secrets, surprises are fine but not secrets and this is because secrets are a way for people who abuse children to keep the children quiet. The book in question stated that it is ok to keep secrets with family members such as uncles and aunties however according to the NSPCC 90% of sexually abused children were abused by someone they knew, so while the advice in the book has good intentions, in our opinion it is flawed.
Use open-ended questions that don’t just require a Yes/No response, this encourages the child to focus on the question. Open ended questions often start with
such as “What do you think will happen next?”, “What did you learn?”, “How might you do it differently? “Why do you think <the name of the character in the story> did that?”
Don’t jump to conclusions and only give advice if that is what is being sought by the child. Actively listen, let them finish what they are saying as it may be difficult for them to talk about certain topics and an interjection may cause frustration and an end to the conversation.
At mealtimes try to sit together as a family and employ a no device rule. Use the meal times to engage with the children and use open-ended questions to talk to them about their day, about what they want to do at the weekend, about what they think about certain things that have happened (maybe at school or if they are old enough then maybe from news stories that they have seen on the news), also talk about hobbies or sports that they may be doing or thinking of doing.
Having this regular interaction with your family will make it easier to start the conversation about staying safe online.
When you do have the conversation, don’t try and cover all the topics about being online at once, do it little often.
For your older children, make sure you regularly talk about what they’re doing online and how to stay safe.
Some staying safe online tips are –
· When you choose a profile picture make sure it does not give any indication of where you live or where you go to school.
· Check the privacy settings of social media and any apps you use and ensure your profile is as private as possible.
· Check your devices location settings as some apps can share your location online.
· Understand that not everything that we post or share can be easily removed.
· Ask your child to show you their favorite things that they do online.
· Ask your child to have a trusted adult as a friend on their social network. This could be a family member or a trusted family friend.
· Talk about what is safe to share and what isn’t safe to share. Give real world examples for online scenarios to help them relate to the situation better, for instance would you share your personal details with someone you just met and chatted to while you were out and about. Think about when you meet someone in real life that you would like to be friends with, approach the online world the same.
· Remember people may not always be who they appear to be or who you think they are, that applies to adults as much as to children.
A great way to interact with your family is to use board games that combine traditional board game elements and technology. Two companies who do this very well are Sensible Object (http://sensibleobject.com/) who make the great Beasts of Balance and also Osmo (https://www.playosmo.com/en/) who make the brilliant Monster, Hot Wheels Mind Racers, Coding Games and others. Time spent with your family on these games can not only be valuable family time but can also be another way to initiate a conversation about staying safe online.
Here are some more resources on initiating that “Staying safe online” conversation