By Nomali Cele
The internet has done wonders to improve modern life: you can be getting into your car on your way to work and receive a traffic warning through twitter, which makes you change your mind and take the Gautrain (or its complementary services) instead, to avoid the morning rush. These days, your children enjoy a perk you never had when you were growing up: they are part of the information generation. This means they know how to access most information (even that which is above their age level) at their fingertips. Your child is more likely to have conversations with others across the country and even across the globe than you ever were.
Knowing your way around the internet is not always all sunshine and rainbows. There are many bad parts too; from body shaming to stories of teens who get catfished by dangerous people. As a parent you even have to worry about whether the content your child views – or worse, sends – is age-appropriate.
Indeed, often, the bad parts will outweigh the benefits of having that high-speed WiFi in your home. How do you protect you and your child from the dangers the internet presents?
- Set ground rules
Children are younger than they’ve ever been when they receive computer-based gadgets for the first time. And it brings parents peace of mind. Aren’t you comforted knowing your child can reach you at any time should they need to? But children are also very quick to learn how these gadgets might be used for a lot more than just being a phone call away from mom or dad. A lot can happen in the dark corners of the world wide web. Once the device has been bought, you must set rules about what your child can and can’t do with the device and the internet to which it connects.
- Establish the length of time your child is allowed to use his or her device (over and above homework requirements) According to experts, children under the age of two should have no screen time at all. Those under 10 should get an hour of supervised time and those under 18 should get no more than two leisure hours on their devices or the family computer each day. An hour and a half for your teen is a fair start. You can then negotiate from there.
- What are the boundaries that determine when and where your child can use their device? For instance, is it okay for them to use it at dinner just as long as they stick to their daily two-hour Candy Crush limit?
- There should be a monthly data cap, which will be helpful to track how much internet your child uses. This will be particularly easy to implement if you don’t have uncapped household WiFi and it will teach your child to be economical with resources.
- The younger your child is, the more they need to understand what age restrictions are and to respect them – most websites allow people who are 13 and older to sign up. Also, the younger your child is, the more they need to know the importance of keeping personal information such as your full name, school and home address private.
Rules for yourself
- Lead by example and have your own set of rules to guide your internet life
- Don’t use your gadgets while you are driving
- Stay away from websites that show content that gets you riled up
- Block people who troll you
- Follow the etiquette you expect of your child; and
- As the experts say: never read the comments.
- Exercise Parental Control
Contact your cell phone provider and find out how you can block or filter content on your child’s mobile device or tablet. This should be coupled with an open and frank talk with your child about appropriate content for their age. It will help ease your peace of mind each time your child laughs or smiles or cringes at their device but avoids asking you to come and see.
Visit Google’s safety centre for more tips on exercising parental control.
If your child has a WhatsApp group with friends or cousins or has made a small fan website for their favourite band, check in with them from time to time to see how they are doing. It is one thing to feel alienated on the playground and quite another to feel it from the comfort of your sofa.
Advise your child on how to handle their online interactions, especially if the people are friends or family. Make your child feel empowered to resolve conflicts on their own. Also, let your child know that you support them and that they can come to you with concerns.
Red flags that could be indicators that your child is experiencing negativity in their online world include the following behaviour shifts in your child:
- They are jittery when new messages come in;
- They avoid taking calls or using their chat apps when you are around;
- They become secretive about what they do online, including putting a password or pattern on their mobile device;
- They suddenly break the rules you have set for internet use; and
- They clear their browsing history on the family computer.
Cyberbullying continues to be a quiet problem that is hard to pick up on for most parents. While you are performing the above step and checking in with your child, ask them overtly if anything (or anyone) is bothering them online.
If your child is being harassed by someone they know personally, follow a reporting channel that includes alerting the school (if they are schoolmates) and the other party’s parents. If the bully is someone your child knows only online, most platforms have channels to report abuse. Top this off with blocking the harasser from viewing your child’s content or interacting with your child.
What you should avoid as a parent
Posting pictures of your child in the public domain that include personal information such as their full name, the name of the school they attend or even photographs that show your child in their school uniform. These gestures of sharing the cuteness of your child could come back sinisterly to haunt you and your child in the future. The same applies to home videos of your child which you might think adorable, but you never know who is looking at them.
Are you keeping up with what your child accesses online and on their phone?