Back To School: A Life In Beta

05/09/2016 13:51

After a fun-filled summer, getting the kids kitted out in school uniforms, thinking up new packed-lunch ideas and making sure they're ready for the year ahead, back to school always comes around extremely quickly.

As we approach that all important "back to school" week, I think about how our roles as parents has changed in recent years. As the first generation to raise children in an all-digital world, we're responsible for keeping them safe both on and offline, and let's face it, guide them through things that we may not have experienced ourselves or even understand. Simultaneously, unlike generations before us, we don't have the luxury of our parents passing down wisdom on how much time kids should spend with technology or whether allowing them on social media is a good idea. A survey for the charity Action for Children found almost one in four mothers and fathers in the UK (23.1%) struggle to control their children's screen use.

It's like being in constant beta, a "work in progress" version of what we hope is ultimately being a great parent. With every new milestone and challenge, we are learning ourselves. Whether it's how to access online assignments, coping with cyberbullying or simply knowing the latest social media craze, we are quickly forging the first path of parenting in the digital world.

Protecting the family online is clearly a priority for parents and Norton research shows that 3 out 4 of us are already taking steps to protect our children online, including limiting their access to websites and the amount of information they can post online. While these steps are important, the NSPCC reports that one in four (28%) children aged 11-16 with a profile on a social networking site having experienced something upsetting on it, which shows us that there is still more we can do to ensure our children have a safe and enjoyable experience.

With this in mind, and as we prepare for the new school year, I've included some tips to help ensure your kids can stay safe online, and use the internet as the great resource that it is to help them learn:

1. Talk to them: Just as the Internet is constantly changing, so are your children's online activities. As kids get older, they visit different websites, try new activities, and create new social networking accounts. Talking to them helps ensure they are more open about their online experiences. A couple of good questions to start the discussion include what are your friends doing online? Or what are the coolest or newest websites? These work well as they keep things neutral and generic so your child won't feel like this is just about them. Once the dialogue has been opened you can then ask your child more direct questions about whether anything has ever made them feel sad, scared or uncomfortable and ask them to show you their favourite sites so you can engage and experience them.

It's important to give your child space (both physical and timewise) to provide honest answers to your questions, and you must reassure them that you won't punish them for their answers!

2. Establish house rules: Clear and honest house rules need to be established, but there is no one size fits all. You're going to need to take different steps depending on the age of your child, teenagers need different boundaries compared to younger children. House rules can include setting time limits, content or website limits, e-mail rules, but you must consider what you are comfortable with as a parent depending on the maturing and understanding your children have when it comes to the internet, insight which you'll glean from talking to them, which is why it is so important you do that first.

3. Keep a tab on the content: From websites to apps to games and online communities, your kids have access to a ton of content that can affect them both positively and negatively. Using smart family security and parental web safety tools, as well as the built-in security settings in your browsers, can help you and your children stay safe.

For younger children especially, consider ensuring the device they use is always in your view and teaching them to tell a parent, teacher, or trusted adult if they feel uncomfortable about anything they've seen online are also great ways of making sure they view content that is appropriate for them.

4. Instil reasonable time limits: Without a doubt, one of the toughest battles parents face is helping kids find a healthy balance between interacting online and interacting face to face--"in real life"--with family and friends.

Establishing house rules and installing screen locks are a great way to manage the time they spend online, but these will need to be adapted as your child grows up and their need to be online for school work increases. It's also important to be a good role model - the average person checks their phone around 85 times each day, so we parents are not immune to the "screen time" challenge either!

5. Protect Digital Reputations: As kids get older, they become more social and adventuresome in their internet use. They discuss the latest and "coolest" sites with their friends. They communicate the details of their lives over social media networks, email, instant messaging apps, blogs, and more--leaving digital traces of their thoughts and lives all over the Web. Often, children don't know, or simply cannot grasp, that the Internet records everything and forgets nothing--forever.

In fact, one-quarter of 18-34 year olds in the UK they do not know what information is available about them online. "Googling" their name and showing them what you find is a good way to make sure they are aware of their online reputation, helping them understand that other people can see what they do and say online. Discussing risks and concerns about posting and sharing private information, videos, and photographs is also important, and there are often plenty of teachable moments to take advantage of ,such as stories in the news about embarrassing photos or personal information that was shared publically.

By implementing some of these easy steps, you'll be on your way for a safe start this school year.