‘Screen Time’ is always a constant worry around parents. People hear different advice from all over the place and parents each have their own set of rules. During the various lockdowns across the UK, screen time amongst teens took a sharp increase. This is to be expected when they are forced to stay inside but it should not be feared.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, January 2021
The time that your child is spending in front of a screen can be easily limited but it is what your child is doing online that can be more of a worry. It is far safer to have an understanding of what your child is up to online and trust them to be responsible rather than be in the dark about what they are doing and limit their screen time.
Therefore, online safety should be an open conversation between parent and child. To best understand what your child is up to online it is worth familiarising yourself with the apps that they use.
Social media usage among children UK children 2019
Rules to Stay Safe Online for Kids
‘If you wouldn’t do it face to face - Don’t do it online’
This is a simple rule to follow which helps children from falling down two rabbit holes. The anonymity available online can tempt children into saying mean things that they wouldn’t dream of bringing up face-to-face, it can prevent cyber-bullying and stop others from feeling victimised.
The other reason that this rule is important to young and adolescent kids is because all their activity on the internet is in some way saved and cannot be deleted. Certain jokes and images that they may feel like sharing in the moment can come back and bite them in later life when looking for a job or trying to impress someone.
‘Teach them to beware of strangers bearing gifts’
This should be self-explanatory and can be tied together with the very same rule in person. It may seem obvious to us but to a child, an adult on the internet is still an adult and therefore an authority figure. Children should be reminded to let their parents know if they come across anyone they deem suspicious or is asking too many questions.
‘Imagine a responsible adult standing behind them’
Kids have a great sense of right and wrong and know exactly what their parents would consider "responsible" or not. This rule can deter young ones from visiting adult websites and getting up to no good.
Not everything you see on the internet is true
The internet is a great place, there is so much fun, learning, and useful tools that a child can use to their advantage. At a young age, it is easy to believe all the information that they are given. This could be anywhere not just on the internet.
Start off by letting your child know that Wikipedia is written by the general public, this will give them a sense of how the internet works and instill the correct thought process throughout their life when interpreting any news they see online.
Don’t share personal details
This reiterates rule one, think twice before sharing any personal information online and face-to-face.
Rules to stay safe online for Parents
Check the internet capability of devices given to kids
It’s very well setting rules for your kids online or managing their wifi times and feeling on top of it but with technology changing faster and faster everyday internet-capable devices can slip under the radar of even very diligent parents.
Always check the age restrictions of each app/game/website before allowing your children on them
Reasons for age restrictions on various platforms sometimes are obvious and sometimes need a bit more thought. When you see an age restriction on a new game or website that your child is frequenting, stop and think for a minute whether you deem it safe or not for your own son or daughter. You may be ok with a mildly violent video game but what about targeted ads or virtual interactions.
A child’s thoughts about online safety, much the same as other pressures that children feel growing up, can be transformed from scared and worried to confident and informed by having open conversations about the online issues that they face.
Lead by example
Your child’s largest influence is yourself, and naturally they will pick up their habits and learn how to behave from you.
Ultimately, you don’t want to instill fear in your child or prevent them from experiencing the many educational, entertainment, social, and other benefits of the internet, but rather give them the skills and knowledge they need to make the most of it and avoid the dangers.
Be wary of apps with in-app purchases.
Finally, we have all heard horror stories of thousands going missing from parent’s bank accounts because their child did not realise that the game was connected to a real source of money.
Check out this collection of stories from the UK of children racking up huge bills through various in-app purchases.
How to start a conversation about online safety
For a child, online life is so closely intertwined with real life. When discussing online safety and the risks that being online brings, it can be particularly scary or uncomfortable for the child.
To avoid this, speak regularly to your child about online life and don’t stress on the negative aspects. This should normalize the conversation and means when you do cover the risks involved then it will not be a shock to the child and it will be a much more relaxing and understanding conversation.
Make it a discussion and ask what your child’s thoughts are about being online in their various capacities. You listening to their reasons for wanting to be on certain apps and them listening to your concerns about their safety will help them understand why certain rules may have been put in place, and lead to a healthy relationship going forwards.
For younger ones, it may be worth starting off with the basics. There are plenty of online resources available to instill internet safety tips and start good practices. Like this video from the BBC.
Why is Online Safety such a risk now?
Having spent increasingly more and more time inside over the last year, particularly over the winter months and when their usual outdoor and group activities have been cancelled due to the pandemic. This has led to an increase in screen time and online activity per child.
Particularly around video-sharing apps and platforms where the risk of bullying and trolling is thought to be at its highest. Bullying or trolling, harmful or age-inappropriate content, and receiving private messages from strangers are among the top concerns.
87% of adults and 79% of 8-15 year olds believe these concerns are justified.
In general, the consensus is that the dangers of being online are growing. However, so too is the awareness of the risks out there and parents and schools are educating kids more about how to behave and what to look out for. Check out these quotes from a recent Ofcom study.
“Children are seeing more hateful online content than they used to, and several children in Ofcom’s Media Lives Research reported seeing violent and other disturbing content online. During 2019, half of 12-15s say they have seen something hateful about a particular group of people in the last year.”
“Fewer parents feel that the benefits of their child being online outweigh the risks compared to five years ago. Just over half of parents of 5-15s feel this (55%), compared to two-thirds (65%) in 2015. However, there are indications that more parents are talking to their children about online safety (85% of parents of 5-15s), than compared to 2018 (81%).”
Awesome new ideas - Child-friendly sites and resources
Search engine for kids.
Swiggle is a search engine designed for use by kids. The search engine is powered by Google and uses Google's ‘SafeSearch filter to avoid age-restricted and inappropriate results.
The main attractions of Swiggle are that it prioritises educational resources and there are no ads to influence decision making or mislead a child’s search. Swiggle can be installed as the default search engine on your computer, for free, and is incredibly simple to use.
Social media site for kids.
Spotlite is an online platform designed for kids to get all the benefits of a social media to the likes of Facebook and Instagram without having to interact with strangers and be influenced by sponsored content.
The app provides a safe space which is 100% COPPA compliant and activity can be monitored and controlled by parents including who your child interacts with. Due to the artificial intelligence and machine learning that Spotlite uses to moderate content the app has provided the freedom that kids are looking for with the boundaries that parents need.
Online monitoring for parents.
Bark helps parents manage and protect their kid's online lives. Bark is a downloadable app for parents that blankets 30 of the most popular social media sites and online platforms that your kids may be using. It then uses screen monitoring and artificial intelligence to find any potential dangers or risks before alerting you of your child's activity.
From the manage section of the app, parents can also manually choose how much screen time they want their child to have and the hours available to them for online use.