You may see it as a blessing or a curse, but the internet now dominates pretty much everything we do.
- Need an answer to a question, Google it.
- Want to know what’s on at the weekend, check Facebook
- Want to follow the latest TV show, check Instagram.
We now live in an instant society, with most parents glued to their phones either for work or social reasons. But how is this affecting our children and in a world where online communication seems unavoidable, how can we keep them safe?
The worry of keeping children safe online is so real that even the government have appointed Baroness Joanna Shields OBE as the Special Representative on Internet Safety.
Children now patiently wait to be old enough to launch their own Instagram account or join Snapchat. Most are already on Whatsapp even before this, as a way to still communicate without the expensive call charges.
Even though most parents probably use at least one social channel daily, how many actually know the ins and outs of the different apps?
For instance, do you know that SnapChat can now show your location? And that Whatsapp have now introduced this?
How easy would it be for a predator to follow your child and know where they are through simply posing as a fellow child and tracking their movements.
Keep your child safe
Whatever channel your child is on, make sure they’re using it in ghost mode.
Check that their Facebook and Instagram are set to private – not just set to friends, but using the custom setting to ensure that it is only friends, not those that are tagged or friends of friends.
On Twitter, protect their tweets.
The best way to monitor your child’s social use is through communication and by the child seeing the use of the channels as a privilege, not a right.
Monitor Wi-Fi time, talk to them about who they’re speaking to and make them aware of the dangers.
You can also download apps to their phone that will monitor their internet usage. This may seem like an invasion of privacy to some, but even if your relationship with your child is difficult, it can keep them safe and you can sleep easier.
The other major worry is that all communication becomes virtual. The more kids use the internet, the less time they spend in real face-to-face interaction.
Make sure you have set times where phones or tablets are allowed and clear boundaries as to when they’re not.
Sit at the dinner table and communicate. The simple act of sharing a meal without distraction allows the walls to come down and gives children the chance to talk.
This will also help you look out for warning signs that something may not be right. Changes in eating habits, not feeling hungry or eating more than usual. Not talking as much, being over sensitive or more aware of how they look, can all be warning signs of bullying.
Use the evening meal as a balance point, keep the situation and time the same every night and share what’s happening.
Above all, do your homework on any app your child downloads.
If you haven’t heard of it, check it out yourself. Download it and check out the features, see what you can see and who contacts you.
Better still, ask them to teach you how to use it – and see what they know.
Awareness means that you make informed decisions about your child’s safety online.