Children and young people are accessing the internet through more devices than ever – phones, tablets, smart TVs, games, computers, laptops or wearable devices. It is accessible 24 hours, often from devices they carry with them. It is important they learn safe use as you won’t always be there to guide them.
The best way to keep children safe is to talk with them about what they are doing and show your genuine interest. Discuss how things work and solve problems together. This builds trust and they will be more likely to come to you if something worries them.
Read and download the Cybersafety - Parent Easy Guide.
Hi, I’m Kristy Goodwin and I'm a digital wellbeing author, researcher, speaker and mum who's endured her kids techno tantrums from time to time.
Many parents today worry about keeping their kids and teens safe online. So how can we keep our children and adolescents safe in the digital world?
As a family try where possible, to limit devices from being used in bedrooms or bathrooms or any other areas that are difficult to supervise. As a family establish ‘no-go tech zones’ in your house. Unsupervised use of devices can increase the likelihood of your child or teen experiencing cyber-bullying, accessing inappropriate materials, or being exposed to predatory online behaviour.
Cyberbullying and predatory behaviour tend to occur more often at night. So, try to minimise your child’s or teen’s use of devices late at night. The increased risk of cyber-safety issues at night can be because there’s often limited supervision during these hours but can also be explained by how their brains work. At night, the part of the brain that controls our impulses and our working memory, called our prefrontal cortex, is exhausted and so it doesn’t function properly. This is the logical, problem-solving part of the brain. Instead, at night, our amygdala, which is part of the brain that processes our emotions, well it fires up. This combination, of the logical thinking part of the brain switching off and the emotional hub of their brain being active, means our kids and teens are much less able to manage emotions and they’re much more impulsive. This is when young people are likely to send inappropriate messages or photos, click on links or engage with someone online that they otherwise would not. So where possible, really try to limit their use of screens at night. This will help them sleep better too.
As parents and caregivers it’s very important that we try to avoid using technology as a punishment. Let me explain why. If there’s any perceived threat that you will take away a device, or ban them from an app, game or group chat, then they won’t come to you when there’s a problem online. Put simply, if your child or teen thinks that you will ‘digitally amputate’ them then they are much less likely to report any cyber-safety issues because they think that your response will be to simply take away their technology.
Instead, we need to be having constant and ongoing conversations with our kids and teens about being safe online because remember, the part of the brain that manages their working memory, the prefrontal cortex, is still developing in childhood and adolescence. We need to be frequently reminding them that they need to talk to us or another trusted adult whenever they experience anything unsavoury online- be that cyberbullying, predatory behaviour, or inappropriate content.
When our kids or teens do report any cyber-safety issues, take their reports seriously. Saying to them, “Just ignore the comments” or “Just turn it off” is not helpful advice for our digitally-dependent young people. If we disregard or minimise our kids’ concerns, they’re much less likely to come to us in the future with their online problems. Instead, we need to acknowledge their concerns, let them know they were right to come to us and discuss how to deal with the situation together.
As parents, we also need to avoid over-reacting when our kids report any cyber-safety issues. Understandably, for many parents and carers, we can easily become reactive or upset when we hear that our children or teens have encountered something inappropriate online. We need to take a moment to think about how we can respond, rather than react. If you’re unsure about how to handle the situation, speak to your child’s school, or contact the eSafety Commissioner’s team for guidance. Explain to your child or teen how you can handle the situation together and seek their input as to how they’d like to resolve the issue. This may involve you reporting the issue directly to the platform as most games and social media platforms now have direct reporting functions. It may also involve you reporting the issue to your child’s school, the eSafety Commissioner, or perhaps even the police.
A final strategy we can implement to keep our young people safe online, is to use parental controls and internet-filtering tools. Now please don’t be tricked into thinking that these controls and tools are 100% failsafe. They’re simply not. None of them are a guarantee that your child won’t encounter cyber-safety issues. However, using digital tools to limit and restrict what our kids can access and the times of the day and night that they can use digital devices can help to minimise the chances of them encountering inappropriate content online. Think of these tools like fencing a pool. They will deter and restrict kids’ access, but there’s nothing to stop them from climbing over the fence, or sneaking in when the gate is left ajar. Using controls and filtering tools, coupled with your active involvement and keeping devices in public areas of the house, are the best measures that you can put in place to keep your kids safe online.