Lockdowns and social distancing are causing all sorts of issues, but there is one very important issue that is emerging that can have an enormous impact on our kids. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a 21% rise in youth cyber-bullying. This is according to Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, the country’s first official responsible for keeping citizens safe online. Read more for some advice on simple things to do protect our children.
Social media and internet use can be navigated safely by following four simple premises.
Be involved in your child’s online life
This pandemic can be viewed as a great opportunity for parents to become more involved in their children’s online lives.
For many, we now have time to co-view and co-play with our children and we can learn from each other about apps, games, websites, privacy settings and possibly even parental controls. We all know how quickly children pick up technology skills, so this could be a chance to have our children teach us about our own phones and devices and how to use them as well as popular apps and games and how they are using them.
It wasn’t long ago that parents were asking their kids how their day at school went. Perhaps now is the time to be asking about what’s been happening online instead? The more natural this becomes, the more chance that children will not hide what is happening to them or what they are seeing in their online lives.
Bring online interactions into open areas of the house
There is a temptation to set up children in a private quiet space to allow them to concentrate on their remote learning without interruption. However, this is often the place where online interactions can be the most dangerous.
Julie Inman Grant warns that “most child abuse material came from interactions between teenagers in bedrooms or in bathrooms.” Although that is something we shouldn’t be worrying about in a primary school, remember that not all the people children connect with are of primary school age. And unfortunately, explicit material is being accessed, created and shared by younger and younger people.
Her advice, “just bring them out into the open.”
Set limits on personal technology use
Remote learning does provide an opportunity for students to devise a timetable that suits them. While this flexibility can be largely positive, we need to watch out for a cycle of late nights and slow starts in the morning. This is particularly important if the late nights are being spent on social media, videos, streaming or gaming online.
A nighttime curfew for phones/devices will increase the chances of a good night’s sleep. If you set a curfew, it is an excellent opportunity for the entire household to follow it. There is a lot of research that connects the blue light emitted from devices to poor sleep patterns (How Blue Light Affects Kids & Sleep). Locating charging stations outside of bedrooms is a very smart idea to help to remove the temptation to reach for the device from their bed.
Rethink our opinion on age restrictions
Just about all social media apps and platforms come with an age restriction. For many of us, we don’t necessarily know these, but they have been established for very good reasons.
Children often learn by pushing boundaries and making mistakes. In fact, as teachers, we are often encouraging our students to take risks and learn from their mistakes. These mistakes are not only made in the classroom as social skills are also developed by making mistakes and learning from them.
In real life social situations, a mistake can be dealt with and moved on from quite promptly. When these mistakes occur online, it becomes a completely different matter. A comment or shared image can become something much more sinister online and can have an enormous impact. Applications for schools, universities and jobs could be impacted on by a poor digital footprint caused by the naive use of social media as a child.
We also need to consider the message it sends our children if we allow them to pick and choose which rule to follow. What does it tell them when we enable them to lie about their age to sign up for an online account? As our children head into adolescence, we should aim to have our children respecting and following rules and laws to give them the best chance of safely navigating the challenges they will face as peer pressure becomes more serious.
The internet has proved itself to be so valuable during these recent times. So many of us are now accessing it more than ever to connect, learn and entertain. By following these simple ideas, we can help and support our children to safely navigate the many challenges they will face in their online lives.
Over the coming weeks, we will publish more specific information about popular apps and websites that many children are using. These will come with background information, age restrictions, causes for concern and ‘how-tos’ for deleting accounts, blocking users and reporting users.
Year 6 Teacher and eSmart Coordinator
(& father of a 13-year-old daughter)
Some very useful links for more information –
Alannah & Madeline Foundation – https://www.amf.org.au/
Office of the eSafety Commissioner – https://www.esafety.gov.au/
Raising Children – https://raisingchildren.net.au/school-age/play-media-technology
Dolly’s Dream Parent Hub – https://parenthub.dollysdream.org.au/