Technology is an area of concern for all parents who worry about the amount of time their kids are spending on screens and online safety. Here are eight handy tips.
• A continuous conversation. It’s never too early to start talking to your child about how to make the best of the online world, how to stay safe, and what to do if they ever feel uncomfortable. Conversations should ideally start as soon as your child is old enough to search the internet or use YouTube, and you can revisit these chats as often as needed.
• Keep an eye on the computer. If possible, locate the computer your child uses in a central area of the home where you can keep a discreet eye on what they are doing. Familiarize yourself with privacy settings and parental controls — while remaining mindful of children’s frequent aptitude for unlocking security systems and guessing passwords.
• Create a family technology contract. Jointly come up with a set of agreements on the boundaries that the whole family will apply to their use of devices. The contract may cover; amount of time spent on screens; a ‘switch off’ time for devices in evening; dedicated ‘digital detox’ periods when everyone agrees to take a break from devices; no scrolling through phones at mealtimes; possible consequences if the contract is not respected.
• Observe your child: Every child responds differently to technology so the key question is what impact screens have on your child? If long hours spent on an Xbox seem to plunge your child into a trance like state that leaves them restless, agitated or triggers a meltdown when they are told to switch off, then it may be time to agree some limits.
• Trust your instincts: It can be so hard being a parent, particularly when your child complains that he feels left out because all his friends have a smartphone or the latest games console. Don’t feel pressurized by what other parents are doing and stick to what feels right for you and your child.
• Confiscate as a last resort. If your child fears you may take away their device, they are less likely to tell you if they run into problems online.
• Emphasize the positives. Young people love the online world and they will respond if you show an interest in the positive aspects of their experience. Ask them about the connections they make with friends, the new perspectives they gain on issues, the interests they pursue and the games they enjoy.
• Seek solutions together. Use any online difficulties as opportunities to help your child develop their own problem-solving skills. There are many excellent websites to help parents and children to manage their online lives. I recommend www.internetmatters.org, www.02.co.uk/help/nspcc, www.thinkuknow.co.uk, www.saferinternet.org.uk, www.childnet.com.