Christmas is nearly upon us, and no doubt many little ones will be waking up to the joy of new tablets and devices under the tree this year. But with extra screen time comes new parenting challenges - how can we ensure that our kids aren't stumbling across inappropriate content while eagerly testing out their new toys?
To put parents' minds at ease while running around this Christmas, here are 5 top tips to broach online safety with your children - without dampening the festive fun!
Explore the internet together
Ask your children to show you their favourite activities online. It's a great bonding experience during Christmas and, at the same time, it gives you a chance to understand your child's online behaviour. By working through tasks together, you can easily turn the conversation to what they should do if they come across something inappropriate that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Explain the difference between online myths and reality
It seems there's a new viral trend taking the internet by storm every day - sorting through this information overload is challenging enough without having to decide whether it's fact or fiction. Broaching this subject with a child isn't easy, but it's important you encourage them to question where information or an image has come from, and how credible it might be. For example, photos of a T-Rex parading through a neighbourhood are extremely unlikely to be real!
Teach them about chatting online
With the growth of social media, there are so many platforms where children can talk and meet new people. Introduce them to chat features by looking for a platform where your child gains a sense of independence while you retain an element of control, whether that's approved contacts, co-viewing rights or parental locks. Taking small steps like this will help them learn how to navigate chatrooms safely, and understand how their online communications correspond with friendships offline.
Make passwords fun
When it comes to passwords, try to stick to lowercase and letters only to avoid your child getting frustrated and locking themselves out. Memorable words don't work with kids as they do with adults, as passwords often need to be longer than words children can remember. Phrases and short sentences that are already part of their everyday consciousness, such as a road name or school teacher, help tackle this. For example, something like "maryhadalittlelamb" is a lot easier to remember for a child than "olliesmith123".
Don't shy away from talking about cyberbullying
Tackling cyberbullying is more complicated than normal bullying - while kids getting into a scrap on the playground doesn't last long, online content is far more enduring and there for the world to see. So explain to children the power of words and show them how quickly a comment online can balloon and escalate. By teaching children that what they say can have consequences, they will be more likely to report online bullying.
By having these conversations early, you get to decide how your children will begin learning about digital life. At the end of the day, there's no right or wrong answer to how much you should be monitoring your children's activities online or even how much time they should spend on devices. In my house, my children get 20 minutes a day on Azoomee where I know they're safe - and I get to have a cup of tea and read the paper!