Updated: May 19
The internet is a playground for all sorts of undesirable characters, activities and content. For this reason we should be very careful what we allow our children to access during their time online. Unfortunately, many of our children are far more tech-savvy than we as adults are, which can make monitoring their online behaviour even more difficult. For this reason, cyber parenting is so important and should be taken seriously. It is imperative that you create the rules as well as explain the need for these rules, removing all ambiguity. Importantly, these cyber rules need to apply to all individuals in the house, including you as the parents.
Why Cyber Parenting?
The reality is that your children have been born into technology. It has not been introduced to them, for them it has always been there. Therefore, their view of the world may be very different to yours. This is ok, and if we understand and accept it, it can become easier to manage. Fighting technology is not an option these days.
Almost weekly we hear new stories about someone who has posted something online and is now facing the consequences for their cyber-actions. Helen Zille is the most recent headline that has been going around following her “colonial tweet”. The reality is that some very serious laws apply to the online word that we frequent. The potential harm and legal ramifications of our online behaviour can be quite frightening, and enough to get us to avoid Facebook for a few days. The more we learn about the seriousness of social media law and the implications of our online behavior, the clearer it becomes that we need to learn more about what our children are doing online, to take a much more active role in monitoring their online behaviour.
Where do we start?
The starting point is educating ourselves on what our children are exposed to, what the age limits are, and what we can do to help protect them. It is essential to set some time aside so that you can answer your questions and be informed. It is also crucial to determine how technology fits into your family and ties in with your family values, rules and boundaries. Cyber parenting and discipline within the home are inseparable as your children’s online behaviour should mirror that of what you expect from them in reality. In this day and age, there is no excuse for not knowing.
Each website and social network with have their own age restrictions, research these and become familiar with these so that you are not in the dark. It is also a good idea to have a look over some of the terms and conditions so that you have a better understanding of what using a certain website or application actually means. Take time to go through new sites, games and apps with your children. Here are some age limits for a few popular websites:
How long should your children, or you, be spending in front of a screen each day is a very difficult question to answer. There is plenty research on the topic, however a lot of it provides contradictory or vague generalisations. At the end of they day, we need to bear two important facts in mind. Firstly, all screens emit a blue light that refreshes numerous times a second (we don't notice this), whether it a cellphone, television or iPad. The younger a person is, the less developed their central nervous system is which interprets these “flashing” impulses. Screen time can impact the neural development in our brains, and so we need try to limit the use where we can. Click here for an article on the matter.
Secondly, we need to bear in mind what screen time means within our families. How do you spend your own time at home, how much time does your family spend in front of a screen, and how much screen time would you prefer for your family. This becomes a personal choice for each individual family and should be related back to your family values, and discipline structures.
Application and content limits
The internet is an amazing resource that is loaded with information and useful content, however we need to be aware of the inappropriate, time-wasting and explicit content that is also online that children are very likely to come across. Being aware of what children are doing online is important when it comes to monitoring and protecting them from harmful content. Rules need to be set and discussed with all family members as to what type of content, when and how it may be accessed. Following this, it will be important to put other measures in place as some children will purposely still seek this content, while others may innocently come across it. Therefore, having firewalls, different user accounts and monitoring software is important.
The way forward
Take control - do not let your children dictate what, when and how they use technology and the internet. It is up to you and the rules that have been implemented at home.
Set limits and restrictions, and be very clear on these for all members in the home.
Be a role model for the behaviour you want to see in your children.
Be informed - spend time researching and learning how to use websites, programs and devices.
Set up different user profiles on all computers at home that have different restrictions per user. You can even determine what time or how much time can be spent on the computer.
Mobile devices need to be controlled too, set rules and make use of the restrictions settings where possible, or even make us of a third party application to help control these devices.
There needs to be understanding that as a parent you will monitor and check your children’s device and internet usage, as you have responsibility to protect them, it is not that you do not trust them, and there should be no negotiation on this point.
Keep your computer and online connection password protected and use passwords that ingenious children cannot figure out. Change your password on a regular basis. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Make sure that you teach your children about online safety. When they are small we teach them about not talking to strangers, yet we forget to do this when they start using the internet. Make sure that you teach your children not to give out their full names, where they live or their phone numbers. Emma Sadleir’s book “Don’t film yourself having sex” is a very good resource when dealing with online safety. Familiarise yourself with the content of her book and make sure that you and your children understand the laws of the cyber world.
Be sure to install filtering software to prevent your children from being exposed to topics that would make you cringe, but remember that software is only a tool, NOT a replacement for your involvement. Some examples of good filtering software are:
Lastly, online monitoring is a sign of a caring parent who is involved in their children’s activities and the information that they are in contact with. Yes, learning about the internet is frustrating and time consuming, but it is imperative in today’s society.
A computer, cellphone or tablet with an online connection is not a baby sitter and we need to take an active role in teaching and protecting our children. Learn, get involved and be a part of your children’s online experiences. Look at it as an activity you can share together!