Technological advances add heaps of parenting challenges. We offer some tips to help with Internet safety
When I was a kid, most of us were lucky if our family owned a clunky desktop machine running MSDOS. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no cellphones and certainly no insta-anything. So the task of protecting your child from the online traps and pitfalls might seem a bit daunting. But don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as it may first appear.
Have a conversation
“You have to start the discussion early,” says Signy Arnason, the director of Cybertip.ca at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. “You’ve got to set the expectation that you’re involved and you’re invested, and that starts as soon as your kid becomes connected to technology.”
These are conversations you should be having anyway, about healthy relationships and treating others with respect.
Although filtering or computer locking software are useful tools, they cannot replace the value of an unwavering understanding between parent and child.
“There are many ways, as we all know, to get around locking software,” says Jane Tallim, co–executive director of MediaSmarts, “and if kids really want to do it, they will.”
But if they know you’re paying attention, they will push the boundaries a little less. Turning off the wireless router at night and monitoring how much data kids are using on their cellphones are two excellent places to start.
With all the other demands of being a parent, staying on top of the cutting edge might seem like mission impossible, but there are a few tricks that don’t involve spending your lunch hour scouring dry technology blogs.
Parents can sign up for Cybertip alerts from www.cybertip.ca. They send out updates about the latest trends in social networking and technology, which help parents zero in on what their kids will be using next.
Accept your limitations
Understand that in certain situations — especially in cases of cyberbullying and explicit images posted online — kids may not want to involve their parents.
For these situations, it’s really important to give your children the skills to recognize when things have gotten out of control. There are resources such as www.needhelpnow.ca to assist them, particularly with removing unwanted content from the Internet.
Jane Tallim has another approach: have them teach you.
“Asking your child to show you how things work can actually be a very empowering thing,” she says. “Getting into the habit of sharing things with your children and not feeling like you have to be the expert is important, and then what you bring is the adult experience to what you’re both looking at.”
At the end of the day, you will not know everything about what your child has done online, and that is OK.
“You ask any adult if their parents, in fact, knew what they were doing when they were teens. Everyone says no, they had no idea,” says Arnason. “So I think we’ve got to be realistic in what our expectations are.”
Interested in what’s going on online? Have your kids teach you!