It is unbelievable how much of our lives we are sharing online.
The thought of sharing so much of my life, particularly from my teenage years, horrifies me a little. But for my kids and later generations, living life online is a reality.
We are all guilty of oversharing our lives, and often it can be completely harmless (selfies with a cat would fall into this category) but it only takes one scammer, one hacker or a particularly cruel bully to show us how dangerous the internet can be. For our kids, who may not fully appreciate these dangers yet, there is much to learn.
That is why I am so pleased to be taking part in the Stay Smart Online Awareness Week as an ambassador for the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA). Stay Smart Online week is a Government initiative which aims to raise awareness of the issues surrounding the internet and to share, with the community, a range of tips, tricks and tools available to help families “Stay Smart Online.”
With this in mind I thought I would share with you a range of helpful lessons I have learnt over the years.
Tip #1 – Who is responsible for our children’s online safety?
Before I go into specific tips and tools, it is thoroughly important to identify the people who are responsible for teaching your kids about staying safe online. That would be you, the parents (yes Dad’s I am looking at you as well). Sure, schools are teaching kids about the digital world, but the buck stops with us.
When it comes to the internet and the connected world we interact with, there is so much potential for learning, social interaction and entertainment, but for kids to properly enjoy all of this they need to be equipped with the right tools to handle the ‘not-so-nice’ interactions. The responsibility for this education is with us.
Tip #2 – The right advice
The one thing I have learnt about keeping kids safe online is; there is no magic device, no single application, or one set of handcuffs that you can use to fully protect them.
So we can all definitely use some help. Thankfully there are many websites and programs available to help parents, understand the best practices to manage the online world. Stay Smart Online Awareness week happens between the 2 and 6 June this year, and their website is jam packed with tools and tips to manage a range of areas from forums and social media to shopping and dealing with mobile devices.
It is also worth looking widely for other informative websites, like the one you are reading right now. Cybersmart.gov.au is constantly publishing amazing tips around online safety. Find a site that strikes a chord with you and learn as much as you can.
Tip #3 – The right tools for the job
Like the school-yard, the online world is full of chatter, transactions and interactions between many different people and sometimes these interactions can be negative and sadly some can be dangerous. Thankfully many platforms across social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.), video games consoles (Sony PlayStation, Microsoft X-Box, Nintendo etc.) and even websites like Essential Kids have the capacity to ‘report and block’ users who are causing trouble.
Make sure you understand how these features work and let your kids know that these tools are available so they can flag inappropriate behaviour and help maintain a safe online community.
As an ambassador for the video games industry, I speak with a lot of parents who are concerned about ensuring that their kids stay safe when playing video games.
Thankfully there are a range of tools to help you manage gaming consoles. This is an absolute must, because video games touch on a variety of areas which may need some supervision.
Where are the tools? They are generally embedded in the ‘parental control’ settings. These settings will help you manage the items which can be purchased through online stores, some settings will govern if kids can access in-game chat, and of course the controls can help manage age appropriate content.
I recommend checking out the IGEA website which also includes some useful resources – including some videos by yours truly – for parents looking for some advice around managing video games.
Tip #4 – Help your kids to develop ‘critical thinking’
All the tools and education can only go so far. We know as parents we can’t be everywhere, so we need to help our kids to be mature and diligent digital citizens when we aren’t looking over their shoulder.
One of my favourite blogs and one I highly recommend you take the time to visit, is Martine Ogelthorpe – The Modern Parent. She has some sage advice across a range of areas relating to online safety and one article she published recently was entitled Critical thinking skills online: the very best filter for our kids.
Martine introduces a truly powerful concept; that regardless of how many terrific technology tools we have available to us filter out negative influences online, the most powerful filter is the child. If we can teach them to govern their online lives and help them to become aware of the environment they are interacting with, we can give them a lifelong filter, one that will help keep them safe, as they grow through various stages of maturity.
Martine’s article includes a list of valuable questions that kids should be asking themselves when they are online. I won’t list them here, again I recommend checking out her article in full, but at the heart of these questions is critical thinking. This is the ability for our children to face a decision, and instead of just reacting, the critical thinking child will stop and evaluate the situation.
Now this isn’t a lesson that can be taught over the weekend, but we should keep this ideal in mind.
Tip #5 – Let them know that you are there to help
Keeping an open a dialogue is never an easy thing to do, and for many kids (my own included) their online lives are their own. They don’t want us “oldies” butting in.
Let your kids know that you are a resource if they are troubled by anything; they need to be comfortable to come to you for help.
The online world is a modern marvel, and to many a scary, frightening and altogether new place that might not make sense, but that is no excuse.
Terrific initiatives like Stay Smart Online help raise awareness but we all need to make sure we are constantly learning about better ways to keep our kids safe online.
Steph’s quick tips:
- Take responsibility – you are a carer online, just as much as you are in the real world
- Find helpful resources – Websites like; Cybersmart, Modern Parent, IGEA, Stay Smart Online, offer heaps of useful tips for parents, take it all in.
- Find the right tools for the job – Platforms across the internet have built in ways to keep people safe, from parental controls to reporting and blocking functions – make yourself aware of these functions and at the very least encourage your kids to learn how they can use these tools.
- Critical Thinking – Help your kids to develop critical thinking, you want them to be sceptical about what they see and hear online.
- Maintain an open dialogue about online safety – Your kids need to know that you are there to help. It is impossible to be everywhere at all times, but if your kids know you are a safety net, hopefully their online life will never become too overwhelming.