It’s a wild, wild world out there.
The internet isn’t a 100% safe space anymore. There are dark and depressing corners hidden all around it, which means we need to do double duty in keeping our kids safe on the internet. Cyber safety is a must-have conversation every parent needs to address with their children. Social media is going gangbusters and YouTube channels directed toward our children’s demographic has them glued to their devices for hours if you let them. It’s difficult to monitor and even when using parental controls and restrictions you can sometimes still be caught off-guard.
Recently there’s been a spate of TikTok videos featured on the platform which are disturbing and graphic to anyone who watches them (let alone kids!). Already viewed by millions of people before being flagged, the videos are eventually removed, but unfortunately that is after many kids have seen these awful videos. Even with parental restrictions in place on devices, these videos can still slip through if we’re not careful.
I realise that although now unavailable for view on TikTok, at some point my children could have easily accessed and watched these videos.
I expected that if parental restrictions were applied on my children’s devices they would be safe to browse and watch basically what they wanted. It really did bring to my attention the need to monitor more meticulously video content and bring about discussion with my children as to what is appropriate for them to watch.
Unfortunately, it’s not always a matter of banning our kids from social media or devices altogether, because this technology has become a huge part of our daily lives. They have devices and apps at school! As parents, we just need to be as vigilant as we can when our kids are using this technology and be more involved in what our kids are doing online….and teach them the RIGHT way to use it!
1. Communication is key.
Obviously talking to your children about what’s appropriate and what isn’t is the first step to keeping them safe. Our initial conversation included a chat about video content and what they agreed was out of bounds. We identified that videos of a sexual nature, frightening e.g. ghosts etc., extreme violence, explicit language and anything that made them feel uncomfortable were all off limits.
We also identified that sometimes by accident, a child may watch something inappropriate. I reiterated that if this was the case they needed to let me know. I ensured my children were fully aware that if they felt what they watched wasn’t quite right, then many other children wouldn’t either. They then needed to tell me so we could have it removed from viewing in order to help keep other children safe.
2. Set boundaries.
In our house, taking and/or sharing inappropriate photos of themselves is a no-no. For instance photographs of them in their school uniform or anything that may give away their location or photos of other children without permission etc.
My children have to have friend requests approved by a parent. Often on social media you get random requests for friendship from people you don’t know. My children have to be able to tell me who the person is and how they know them prior to accepting the invitation. We discuss their social media content often and reiterate boundaries to ensure they’re aware of what’s expected. If those boundaries are crossed then they lose their privilege.
3. I am your first friend.
Although I’m not great with technology, I’ve had to learn how to keep up. In order to ensure my child is posting appropriate content to their social media and not endangering themselves inadvertently, I made them be friends with me first. This way I am in constant contact with what they’re doing and who they are talking too. Although I’m sure they’ll get to an age when having your mum on Insta isn’t cool, for now it’s a great way for me to be involved in their online lives.
4. Parents have passwords.
Although I am friends with my children on social media they still have to provide me with their passwords. In doing so we’ve agreed that at any time upon my request I am able to access their device and check their profiles, pictures and general content. This includes private messages, emails and gallery photos even if they haven’t posted it to the internet.
5. Use online resources.
When my children started using the internet more and more I used the internet to my advantage. I searched to find an online quiz they could do to help them with online safety and what they needed to be aware of. Although there were many, I used the following with my children and found it extremely helpful:
If in any doubt about the apps your child has asked to download, you can check on websites such as Common Sense Media – they have reviews about the appropriateness of most games and apps for children.
6. Use app parental restrictions and device settings.
All devices have location settings and so do many applications my children use. In order to keep them safe I make sure their devices have the location setting turned off. Within each of the applications I also turn off location settings. On many apps these days you can put parental restrictions on. You can also restrict your child’s access on devices with screen time features – these can be available on the devices themselves (e.g Screen Time on iPhones) and you can also get them on some anti-virus software packages. Make sure you activate them and talk to your kids about them.
You will also need to ensure that your child’s privacy settings are very secure on all social media applications. This way people who aren’t their ‘friends’ won’t be able to access any of their personal information or look at their photographs. If you are unsure how, you can always use ‘Google’. For me though, I found the best way to ensure I had the right settings was to ask one of my ‘techy’ friends.
Cyber safety has been part of children’s education for years. The internet is a must have and unfortunately unable to pretend like it’s not required. We are always doing what we can to keep our children safe, but it’s not always enough. As parents we can’t just bury our heads in the sand and expect application settings will do the job for us. Talk to your children, monitor what they’re watching and be present in their online lives.
For more information and advice on keeping the internet safer for your kids, head to www.esafety.gov.au (or a relevant internet safety website in your country of residence).
Their safety and the safety of other children really does depend on it.