CyberSafeIreland reveals the best way to protect and empower children in the online world.
We at CyberSafeIreland know from speaking to lots of parents that they have concerns over their children being online. These concerns range from spending too much time online, privacy issues and what their children are doing online, such as what apps and social media platforms they are on and what games they are playing.
This, of course, creates even more concerns for parents while they try to get on with their own work and manage their children's online use. Obviously time online has increased because of self-isolation and homeschooling using online resources.
This article provides some advice on protecting and empowering children. It will also give you some tips for ways to manage areas of concern.
Protecting our children online is a joint effort. We as parents can put things in place, learn how to support our children through situations and give them the knowledge on how to use features on games and apps, and the dangers of talking to strangers.
1. Device Controls
Parents can set up controls on the devices before handing them over to the kids. Both Google and Apple have these features. For IOS users you can track screen time stats or control content across devices with Family Sharing. Android users have similar options also to monitor usage or screen time, and control devices centrally with Google Family Link.
Turning off location settings on devices which will prevent apps and games from tracking the location of the device. This can be done easily on both Apple and Android devices. Also turn geotagging off, which means photos posted cannot be tracked to their location or time by information embedded within the photo file. This is extremely important if your children use social media sites and post images and stories.
2. Use App and Platform Controls
Don't allow the apps to access contacts, photos, microphone or camera by turning this off in Settings. Know how to block, report and turn chat features off. Depending on the age of your child - they should also know how to make private profiles on gaming sites and social media.
This can even be an activity for you to do together - ask them what makes a good (and safe) social media profile? Also, make sure to close friend lists for sharing stories and posts on social media platforms.
3. Set Rules
- Have clear rules around time allowed online. It is important to differentiate between being online for school work versus playing their favourite game or TikTok-ing. Especially during this time!
- Decide what photos are ok to upload on social media sites and why. Photos should never show any personal data or comprise your location. What does your post say about you? Are you inadvertently sharing family information?
- Think long-term: for children who post videos online, ask them “would you want this video online in ten years?”
- Draw parallels with the offline world. Check their friend lists on games and social media profiles - discuss befriending strangers and having strangers follow them. Would they find a group of strangers following them down the road creepy? Then don’t allow it online! Also, explain that you understand that they will follow strangers such as famous people and this is ok, but you may want to vet these too to encourage positive influences and role-models.
It is important that we empower our children to navigate the online world with enthusiasm and confidence. It is especially important to refrain from doing anything that will disempower them. It is important to encourage and train them to be curious and individual thinkers online as much as many are naturally in the offline world.
Empower them with knowledge.
Make sure your children know the risks as well as your concerns - for example, you could go through different scenarios and what to do in them. This will allow your child to critically think and problem-solve for themselves, as they will be trying to find solutions/ways to avoid the risks.
It is advisable to know what to do when negative situations arise - what to say and most importantly, how to stay calm! It is also advisable to make sure your children know what to do if they come across negative situations: hopefully, go to you immediately! Digital age children's lives on the internet are important, so it is essential that they feel confident and empowered.Overreacting and giving out won’t help - be happy they told you at all!
It's not advisable to tell them not to worry about it either as their online lives seem as important as their offline lives in their eyes.
Try not to enforce or demand that they “turn their device off”. This may feel like the end of the world to your children. It is important to acknowledge the incident (be happy they came to you with it) and take it seriously.
Banning them from apps, games or websites isn't always the best option even though it may ease us as parents. We think it’s the best way to protect them and ease the hurt and or discomfort they are feeling by taking them away from the difficult situation. However, their online modes of communication can seem as important as their offline and it is unfair to take them away from the places they “hang out and play”.
Remember - the online world is often where they and their friends hang out. Banning an app or game could have a negative impact on their friendships and social standing. This may then lead them to being isolated and feeling left out.
This could, in turn, lead to a hidden and secret situation arising, or creating a new account behind your back and being afraid to go to you again if anything bad happens. They may also miss out on a learning opportunity in how to deal with situations if something is simply just taken away and banned.
Gamification: the best of both worlds!
Gamified education applies the concept of gaming to make it fun and challenging for students: level-based successes, collecting eggs and unlocking rewards, self-paced learning.
Gamification has become an increasingly popular way to teach and can also be used to learn how to navigate the online world safely.
Below are two games designed to develop online safety and ways to detect misinformation. Both have been tried and tested by our education team in CyberSafeIreland.
BCyberwise Monster Family app is a free app from Australia which aims to teach kids to think critically how to stay safe online. You can find out more on how to download for Apple or Android by clicking here.
The BBC iReporter game teaches children how to interpret information online. What would a journalist do? The BBC iReporter puts the player in the heart of the newsroom to be a journalist working on a breaking story. You'll need to: work out what is real and accurate and avoid pitfalls such as fake and false information. Find out more here.
By Louise O’Hagan, Education Officer, CyberSafeIreland.
This content has been checked and certified by Cyber Safe Ireland whose mission is to empower children, parents and teachers to navigate the online world in a stronger, smarter and safer way.