Life with children can often seem like a series of battles, one after the other. In the 21st Century, managing our children’s online usage is one of the biggest battles we face.
Many of us have felt concerned that our children seem addicted to their devices and have had to deal with tantrums when insisting they stop using them. We cannot block the internet completely; it is a great tool and opens the world to us, but we do need to start setting boundaries for how our children use it.
It would be easier to just let them get on with it, but is that healthy? I really don’t think so!
iPads, iPhones, games, tablets etc. really do stop children thinking for themselves, stop having family conversations and stop playing outside.
It is easier for them to mentally switch off and plug in. It’s easy for parents too - the children seem happily occupied and undemanding. You might simply say, "But that’s what they enjoy." The issue, however, is that children’s natural tendency is to indulge to excess.
If you let them, they would stay up all night and eat as many sweets as they could. It is our responsibility, as the grownups, to stop them from over-indulging. We have to take the same approach to being online. As with other family rules, the earlier we start this the better.
First and foremost parents need to educate themselves on how best to ensure that their internet is secure. There are many articles on the internet available or if you’re unsure speak to a reputable company.
Many ISPs now have filtering as standard, parents can call their ISP and enquire, there's also options within most routers provided by ISPs for "Parental Controls" which give basic protection."
Wayne Coulthard, Fortinet Engineer at Internet Central.
We spend hours teaching children as young as two to learn to swim. We know this could save their lives one day. We spend time sitting, reading books, chatting about the story lines, helping them recognise letters and words. We enforce sensible bedtimes and make sure they don’t watch inappropriate films. As teenagers, we teach them not to drink under-age or stay out too late. Yet we allow young children, uneducated and unsupervised, to use a tool that has content for 18 year olds. YouTube is a great example of this.
There is some hideous content on there, yet we allow our 5 year-olds to sit alone, while we cook dinner, to watch whatever they like. We don’t think to check and see if it is possible to restrict the content or if there are any tools that could help us do so.
I hate scare-mongering, but I could tell you so many stories of 9 year-old girls being groomed via popular apps such as Music.ly, TikTok, and Minecraft. The parent’s normal response is, “They are only games aren’t they??”
The fact is that 28% of 10 year-olds now have a social media account of some sort, mostly Facebook. The recommended age for Facebook is 13. We seem to be ignoring even the boundaries that are clearly given to us.
Do not be afraid to just say, “No”. You can say “No internet past 9 pm”, for example. Setting time limits and sticking to them will help create a routine that the teenager will soon get used to.
We are already accustomed to creating boundaries about how late our children can stay out at night. We do get a bit of a fight, but this soon subsides as the rules have been there from the start.
The latest research suggests a child spends on average 3 hours online per day. This is why time restrictions are a good idea. We need to stop them isolating themselves from the rest of the family.
Why not insist that all devices are kept downstairs and take the time to sit with them and have a conversation about what they are doing?
Create a plan together, decide what you both feel is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable online. Set expectations, teach your children about age restrictions and the apps they should or shouldn’t download. Explain that they need to get permission first. The same with sharing files; get permission first.
Setting parental controls is very important as it can help minimise inappropriate online material and websites that are not for their age group. You can speak to your Internet Service Provider who can give you advice on this. You can also set parental controls on tablets, computers and phones too. For more information see our advice on parental controls."Nishma Shah, Web Communities Co-ordinator, Family Lives
Online gaming is another area of great concern, with our children playing online games via consoles such as the PlayStation and Xbox. Most games now have an online aspect to them; some you cannot even use unless you play with other online players.
One piece of advice I give parents on a weekly basis is to teach children to stay in groups when playing games online. Again, it is about boundaries. In the same way that we teach them to stay together when out in the town with their friends, we need to do this with online gaming – teach them not to go off and play with someone they do not know.
Some of you might not agree with this, but I do not allow either of my children to take part in online gaming. The average age of a gamer is 32 years old and 52% are male. To me it would be like allowing my child to play alone in an amusement arcade with a bunch of middle-aged men.
This is my choice, but as a parent, you are allowed to say “no”. Recently I was delivering a Parent Workshop at a school. I was talking about Roblox. Most think of this as just a game but we have been researching this app and it really is quite scary.
Within 5 seconds I was asked to buy something and within 30 seconds I had already received a message from a player I didn’t know. It also mimicked the worst aspects of real life, where one character was standing in the middle with 5 other characters standing in a circle trying to intimidate him.
Please, make sure you have looked at your child’s privacy settings and have them all locked down.
Another area we also need to have a look at is when our children are at other people’s houses. We don’t set any boundaries here either.
If your under-age child came back from their friend's house smelling of alcohol you would go nuts. I know I would!
But do we ever discuss the content they have watched online at their friend’s house and whether the family has appropriate restrictions in place?
As parents, we should join together to discuss what we allow our children to watch and do. We need to say, “I don’t want my child playing certain games online. I don’t want them being on YouTube”. We have that right, as parents, to ask these things.
Setting boundaries for young children or teens is an essential part of parenting and although a teenager’s natural instinct is to push those boundaries, any child will be more likely to follow instructions when they know they will be followed up.
If you are not consistent about enforcing the limits you set, children will test or stretch these boundaries more. Having firm boundaries, especially with teens, will teach them life skills, helping them to take responsibility and learn that their actions have consequences.
So, as difficult as those battles with your teenager may be, it is vital that you take the time to talk about and set sensible rules that will keep them safe and that they know where they stand.
Boundaries within online time, and platforms, is just the same as everything else within our kids lives; it’s about helping them to find their way, and getting them to understand what is and isn't healthy or safe. Setting boundaries is about educating them, and not a way of stopping them from expressing themselves online, but allowing them to do it safely."
Helen Neale, KiddyCharts
In the end, you are still the parent, and thus remain in charge. If you feel your child is ignoring warnings, or actively seeking out the wrong sites, then you can remove their internet privileges, or move devices back into the centre of the house where you can observe their behaviour.
While some software does allow you to monitor the internet activity of your children, I feel it would be best to tell them in advance that you are using these techniques. It could be quite damaging to the trust of a child to find out that you were secretly spying on their every conversation.
Again, and I really can’t stress this strongly enough, talk to your children rather than rely on a software solution.
Creating boundaries for online behaviour will be a challenge for most of us if the child is older and has not had restrictions before. Taking the time to explain the reasons for the rules and agreeing them with your child in advance should help to ease the process.
With perseverance and consistency this will pay off and create healthier lifestyles, more family conversations and safer use of the internet. Schools can help educate our children to stay safe online but most of a child’s online usage takes place outside school and we, as parents, need to do our part to educate our children and provide the boundaries within which they can enjoy a balanced lifestyle, safe from harm and exploitation.
Stella James, Founder of Gooseberry Planet
Gooseberry Planet is an award-winning software platform which is designed to educate children, teachers and parents about the dangers online through ‘gamification’. In short, we offer a fully interactive and engaging game platform from which children can learn to use the internet responsibly and safely.
Stella James is a mother of two young children and the CEO and founder of Gooseberry Planet – an exciting and interactive app developed to educate children, teachers and parents about the dangers of the internet such as online bullying, sexual grooming and exploitation.
An increasing number of children are accessing the internet. It is important that parents and carers are able to keep their child safe online. Access to the internet means that information is just a click away from your teen, either through their phone, tablet, console, or laptop.
Setting parental controls is very important as it can help minimise inappropriate online material and websites that are not for their age group. You can speak to your Internet Service Provider who can give you advice on this. You can also set parental controls on tablets, computers and phones. For more information see our advice on parental controls.
Show an interest in what your child is doing online but try to keep this balanced so you are not invading their privacy too. Set some rules together about not giving out contact details and why this is important.
Having the conversation about online safety is not a one-off chat, but something ongoing. You can use television storylines or perhaps something you have read in the news as a conversation starter. Asking a young person what they would do in that situation is really helpful to gauge their reactions and thoughts on online scenarios.
A digital footprint is data that is left behind when users have been online. There are two types of digital footprints, passive and active.
An example of a passive digital footprint would be where a user has been online and information has been stored on an online database.
An example of an active digital footprint is where a user might have logged into a site when editing or making comments such as on an online forum or a social media site. It is important to talk to your child about what they post online.
Explain that once they hit SEND, they will never be able to get that photo or comment back and it is on the world wide web for anyone to see or access.
Encourage them to think about their online reputation and how it is important not to allow posts now to affect their future. Most employers will check prospective applicant’s social media accounts and it can affect future opportunities.
Nishma Shah, Web Communities Co-ordinator, Family Lives
Online boundaries, whether based on time or platforms, are just the same as everything else within our kids lives. They are there to help them find their way, and get them to understand what is and isn't healthy or safe. Setting boundaries is about educating them, and not a way of stopping them from expressing themselves online, but allowing them to do it safely.
Any restrictions we have for use of devices or exploring social media is discussed with our kids, so they know why we are doing it. For example, we don't allow devices in the bedroom when they are going up to bed, so the screen usage doesn't prevent them from relaxing. In addition, we use tools like Apple Family, so that we know which Apps the kids want to download. Any downloads need to be approved by us.
My son once innocently tried to download an over 18 gambling game, because it was based around Football. He just wanted a footy game, and didn't realise what it was. Having the Apple Family app meant I had to approve the game first, which enabled us to chat about why it wasn't suitable. He was even grateful the approval step was there in the end, and having it has now given us an opportunity to chat about why some types of apps aren't right for nine year olds!
Helen Neale, KiddyCharts
First and foremost parents need to educate themselves on how best to ensure that their internet is secure. There are many articles on the internet available. If you’re unsure you can speak to a reputable company.
Many ISPs now have filtering as standard. Parents can call their ISP and enquire. Most routers provided by ISPs have "Parental Controls" which give basic protection.
Social media sites are tricky. Educating the child on how best to use them and what to look out for is imperative, but free software in this instance can really make the parents life easier. Tools like Kidlogger enable activity logging. There are many other options worth considering.
For me, the best tip is to create individual profiles on any device which accesses the internet. For example, on the Amazon Fire you can create a child's profile and the administrator (the parent) installs apps onto the child's profile. This restricts what is available to the child on the tablet. The same technique can be applied to a computer/laptop but is a little trickier to achieve.
Wayne Coulthard, Fortinet Engineer at Internet Central.