Keeping Our Kids Safe Online!
Keeping our kids safe online is every parent’s priority. It’s not just online stranger danger and cyber bullying but also the content they’re coming into contact with that is an issue.
With every year that passes we live more and more of our lives online. The interweb lets us access the world in ways never imagined possible when I was a kid. Anyone else remember going to the local library to look up the Encyclopaedia Britannica to research your project??
Now we have all that information at our finger tips and available to us in the comfort of our own home. My seven-year-old also has a computer in his classroom and several computer classes a week.
My son already knows his way around our home computer.
We recently moved it out of the study and into the lounge room. At this stage he’s mostly interested in playing games and watching videos of gamers playing his favourite games (and doing my head in listening to the commentary!). He also uses it for schoolwork; writing speeches, researching projects and school-sanctioned online learning programs are all done on the computer.
Having it in the lounge room means it is much easier to keep an eye on what he’s looking at (even though he does need to check in with us first before going on) and also to be aware of how much time he is on there.
He also likes to play games on my phone, his current favourite being Minecraft.
A new element to the game that he has discovered is that he can link up with other players. We OK’d this, and closely supervised this, making sure he didn’t give his name, or any other personal details. It started off OK, and then things got a little… weird. The other player started asking questions that felt a little… intrusive. So we shut it down. Of course, it could all have been harmless. But we’re hardly about to give a complete stranger in the vast reaches of the Internet the benefit of the doubt.
Our son was really frustrated by this. “But Mum, it’s more fun to play with other people. It’s boring playing on my own.”
So we had a conversation about how most people are good, but that talking to a stranger on the Internet is actually the same as talking to a stranger on the street. And that it’s easy to pretend to be someone you’re not when you are hiding behind a computer or gaming device anywhere in the world.
We compromised, letting him know that when he plays with other kids he knows, he can join devices so they can play together. That it’s something we only do with people we know.
And even at seven, he’s already had a few experiences seeing stuff online that made him uncomfortable. Nothing too awful, but he didn’t like it.
As recently as last week we were visiting a friend’s house for a dinner. After dinner the kids (aged between 5 and 8) were getting a bit ratty so we set them up with a movie in an adjoining room to the adults. Fifteen minutes later I went in to check on them and discovered my son with his eyes closed, fingers in his ears, saying, ‘turn it off, I don’t want to see it, it’s not appropriate!’ One of the older kids had switched the movie off and put another program on, and in the scene I walked in on two guys were having a fistfight. Full-on fistfight.
I was surprised, and a little bit proud, that he was so unselfconsciously and actively sticking up for himself and what he felt to be right. He wasn’t afraid to say how it was for him. For me it was A Great Parenting moment. And then seconds after that I wondered how long this would last before the opinions of his peers and fitting in becomes more important.
As always, I find these conversations to be a fine line. I want to let him know, gently, about the realities of the world we live in, whilst maintaining a sense of optimism, trust and his innocence. I want him to believe the best in people, whilst being cautious about his personal safety. It’s tough.
As parents, we’re learning as we go, too.
After some research I discovered an interesting article including tips from security experts on what they tell their own children about online cyber safety. In a nutshell:
Keep an open conversation about the pros and cons of the Internet. Be vigilant. Check in and understand what your children are looking at. Vet all app downloads. Keep computers in central locations with passwords. Monitor the time they are spending on screens in general. Educate kids about stranger danger online, and keeping their personal information to themselves. That calling people names via the computer is exactly the same as bullying someone in real life. And if they ever feel uncomfortable about ANYTHING in the virtual or real world, to let Mum, Dad or another trusted adult know.
There are lots of interesting tips for kids of all ages. You can read more here.
Another great read is from Rosalie O’Neale, a senior advisor with the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Cybersmart Outreach division, which empowers children to be safe online via Kids Matter. Check it out here.
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