Your first instinct as a parent is to protect your child from harm. While restricting your child’s screen time (and, most especially, their time on the Internet) makes perfect sense when your child is in pre-primary or primary school, it may not be that easy when they’re in high school.
For one thing, your child needs the Internet to do research. They may also be in a school that encourages the use of technology, including chat groups, social media, email and Internet research in class and at home.
The use of the Internet – including social media – can be a powerful educational tool for your child, especially if they have auditory learning style or a kinaesthetic learning style. In previous blog posts, we have included study tips that require the use of the Internet and, in a future blog post, we will give your child more information on how to use technology for this purpose.
But, first, let’s discuss how you can protect your child and ensure that they grow up to be responsible consumers of online media.
Don’t overestimate your child’s maturity
You have spent many years considering every aspect of your child’s upbringing and education. You worry about their table manners, their willingness to serve their community, their sportsmanship on the field… So why do so many parents neglect to teach their children basic Internet etiquette?
The Internet is a permanent feature in modern life. It’s your responsibility to teach your child some simple rules to ensure that they use it to their advantage in a responsible way. Just like you wouldn’t expect a one-year-old child to understand table manners, you cannot expect a 13-year-old to understand how to use the Internet responsibly without guidance.
Here are some points to discuss with your child:
- Remember that what you post online becomes public, and is permanent. Think ahead and never post something that could compromise your reputation.
- Never divulge personal details to anyone online. Personal details include your name, your address, your school, your parents’ names, your pets’ names, your birthday, any banking information or passwords and even what you look like.
- Don’t use passwords that are too easy to figure out (i.e. passwords that use birthdays, parents’ names, surnames, pets’ names, etc.).
- Ensure that all of your social media accounts are set to “Private” and that you carefully screen any friend or follow requests.
- Never – under any circumstances – send a picture or video to anyone of any part of your body: naked or clothed.
- Report abusive behaviour immediately. Online bullying is a serious problem and is just as, if not more, damaging than playground bullying.
- On that note, don’t send nasty messages or post malicious rumours or half-truths about anyone online. This is unacceptable behaviour and can have tragic consequences.
- Remember that what you see on social media is not an accurate reflection of someone’s life – it’s a carefully curated snapshot. Try not to compare yourself to the people you admire online. It’s much more important to live a full and happy life in the real world than to worry about your online persona!
It’s important for this to be an on-going conversation in your family. Allow your children to teach you about new and exciting technologies, apps and social media sites so that you are engaging with these and up-to-date with the latest trends. Build trust so that your child does not feel the need to hide anything from you. If you want to, you can insist that all Internet browsing is done in the family’s study, kitchen or lounge (in other words, no browsing allowed in bedrooms with closed doors).
Lastly, open an account on every platform that your child frequents (even if yours lies dormant) and insist that your child connect, friend, follow or link up with you on those platforms. However (and this is the hard part), resist the urge to snoop too much or too often.
Set all the settings
You have probably activated parental control on your television. Likewise, ensure that all of the Internet browsers at home (on every device) have safety settings activated. Go through the privacy and security settings with your child to check that their email accounts, social media accounts and cloud accounts have the appropriate settings activated.
Make sure that your WIFI at home is protected with a password and that you know how to change it. This can be an effective way to restrict Internet usage, if necessary.
Lastly, ensure that the devices and laptops owned and used by the adults in the house have all of these settings activated too. Resist the urge to allow your Internet browser to save your password for you, or for sites requiring log in details to ‘remember’ you. Make a habit of logging out of your accounts once you are done, and encourage your child to do the same.
Create a list of ‘approved’ sites
Work with your child to create and bookmark a list of ‘approved’ websites. These can include educational sites, YouTube channels and certain social media sites. If you or your child come across or hear about a new website and would like to add it to the list, check it out together and then make a decision.
The point is to teach your child how to be a discerning consumer of online media and information. There is a lot of information on the Internet and it’s not always clear what is true and what isn’t. Encourage your child to think critically about information and its source.
Here is a list to get you started:
YouTube channels worth checking out:
- Study with Jess
- CGP Grey
(A note on Wikipedia: Even though there is evidence to suggest that the information on Wikipedia is reliable because it is crowd-sourced and, therefore, constantly updated and corrected, many teachers are opposed to learners using it as a source for their assignments and will mark them down if it’s cited in their bibliographies. However, your child can still use it to quickly check concepts and facts. They can use the sources cited in the footnotes to point them towards more ‘acceptable’ sources for assignments.)
Technology is more than the web – don’t forget about apps!
There are many applications (apps) available for both Apple and Android devices. Some apps are useful, most are harmless, but some are downright scary. Your child’s device should be linked to your credit card or email account so they should not be downloading apps without your knowledge.
There are many apps on the market that can be very useful for your child (and you), for example planning and scheduling apps like todoist (todoist.com) and Trello (trello.com). Encourage your child to do their research before downloading a paid-for app. Also encourage your child to ‘declutter’ their devices often to avoid sluggish operating systems and a screen full of apps that aren’t being used. Again, caution your child against divulging private information when using apps.
Every family is different. Some are more comfortable with the idea of the Internet as a source of information, while others are still concerned about their children using it unsupervised. The rules and limits you set are up to you and your family. Bear in mind that you have an opportunity to shape your child’s approach to the Internet and their online presence, and that is something that should not be taken lightly.