Keeping Children Safe On-Line

22849088 - many people checking their smartphones at the dinner tableCommentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

In an age when children as young as eleven are easily encountering pornography on line, parenting expert Katharine Hill, the UK director of the Care for the Family charity, discusses eight key tips to keeping kids safe on line.

The Daily Mail is reporting on Hill’s new book, which gives parents valuable advice on how to be smart and safe when it comes to both their own and their child’s use of the web.

“Society is putting pressure on children as young as 10 to be adult before their time – and that’s when in the home we can help them learn to navigate it,” Hill said.

A former magistrate and solicitor specializing in family law, Hill believes it’s never too early to set boundaries on web use and has compiled a list of eight do’s and don’ts to help parents navigate the digital world.

Do not try to ban technology

‘It’s not about making their world a smaller place and banning technology,” Katherine said.

Even if your child is not permitted to have a device, chances are, some other child at school or in the playground will, so a parent should focus on teaching the child what is right and wrong to view on the internet.

Don’t let constantly being on a phone the “default”

“Be intentional as a parent, or a grandparent, don’t let constantly being on a smartphone or looking at a screen the default media use,” she said. “Being intentional also involves talking about media use, little and often… on the school run, in the home.”

Instead, set up age-appropriate guidelines for each child about when and where they are allowed to use their devices.

Do Draw Up a “Family Media Agreement”

Parents need to equip children to deal with the technology around them, assessing both the benefits and the threats posed, and to do this through shared “family values.”

“As they get older, make a family media agreement. Just sit down and talk about what they are allowed to watch, who pays for media, talking about all this in line with your [own] family values.”

Do Charge Devices Downstairs at Night

This is a clever way of keeping web access out of kids’ bedrooms at night.

“Simple parts of the family media agreement can include things like everyone – including mum and dad – charging all devices downstairs at night,” Hill recommends. “When our kids were young we put the computer in the family room, but with smartphones there is no equivalent to shutting the internet off… this is the closest thing.”

Do Have Parental Locks on Devices for Kids

Hill’s research has found that when children are younger, it is very important to install parental controls and locks on websites and phones.

“’The average age we have found for kids to come across pornography is 11,” she reveals. “They are not necessarily looking for it, but they come across it.”

She gave one example of a little boy typing in the search term, Big Ben, and he “didn’t get a clock in Westminster,” she warned.

Do Get Involved in Their Online Lives

Even if you have to follow them on Instagram, Hill recommends that parents stay informed about their teen’s internet use.

“Encourage teenagers to use technology as part of family activity. So take a family photo on a walk and post it to Instagram together,” she said. “Doing this makes the family part of that social media life, part of that identity they are setting up on Instagram. It is important to show interest and join in.”

Do Get Informed and Be Ready to Talk

Instead of burying your head in the sand and avoiding difficult issues or thinking “my child will never look at porn,” Hill says parents need to be informed about the latest technology so that they can talk about it with their child.

“The sexting thing is massive, it’s often a precursor to dating now – the guy asks for topless photo and then he sends one back.” Even thoug it’s illegal under the age of 18, instead of telling off a teen, sit alongside them and help them to think through the consequences of their actions. Are the photos going to be passed on? Would you do the same thing offline?

“That way they are less likely to do it again, or ever start,” Hill said.

Do Curb Your Own Screen Use

“It is very important is to be a good model yourselves,” Hill writes. “Values are caught, not taught. On the playground, at school, parents are doing emails and not making eye contact, that is not ideal.”

Surveys have found that young people look to their parents for how to act around technology, regardless of whether it seems that way or not. “So you need to show them you know how to deal with digital technology, not just tell them what to do.”

Although they might not admit it, many children will be very grateful to their parents for protecting them from on line perils. As our Young Women of Grace study teaches, 71 percent of teens regard boyfriends or girlfriends spreading rumors about them on cells phones and social networking sites a serious problem. Even more alarming is that 43 percent of students report experiencing cyber bullying. They will welcome – even if only in secret – your efforts to protect them!

Hill’s new book, Left to Their Own Devices? Confident Parenting in a World of Screens, explores these themes and more, including how to tackle teen internet addiction in the age of Snapchat and Instagram.

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