Hi friends. A while ago I asked on an Instagram poll if you guys would like me to do a parents’ guide to social media safety or a post about ways to help kids cope with peer pressure. (If you aren’t following me on Insta do it now, I post regular pics of dead squashed frogs that end up in my bed, Bali beaches and general homeschooling chaos).
You voted for BOTH, and I already posted 14 ways to help your kids cope with peer pressure so it’s time for round #2- online & social media safety!
If you’ve read any of my parenting posts you’ll know that I take a whole-life approach to keeping safe- it’s not about simply banning them from potentially dangerous things, I believe that we need to work on building a strong connection with our kids so that they feel comfortable talking to us about anything, even (or especially) when they’ve got themselves into hot water.
- 1 Why Is Digital Tech A Good Thing And Why Should I Care?
- 2 How to equip your child with the inner tools they need to keep safe online
- 3 Practical technical tools for keeping kids safe online
- 4 More posts you'll love:
Why Is Digital Tech A Good Thing And Why Should I Care?
The truth is that digital technology is a huge part of our present, and will be an even bigger part of our future. It has opened learning avenues that we could never have dreamed of 100 years ago, with countless free online tutorials and courses just a click away. With an interest and some time, we can learn anything– this is an incredible thing! Furthermore, even when it doesn’t look like kids are learning, they are learning. Let me explain using computer games as an example.
What’s good about computer games?
Let’s use Zelda (I’m showing my age) as an example. Not super educational, right? Well, actually this multi-level character based game has abundant opportunity for users to learn the following:
- Maths (adding, saving and spending coins and jewels on tools, weapons and food)
- Delayed gratification (do I spend all my coins now on a basic tool or save for something that will help me more?)
- Teamwork (various social skills including negotiations, compromise & time management if they are meeting players online)
- Hand-eye co-ordination
- Organisation (don’t leave your house without everything you need)
- Be nice to chickens (only people who have played Zelda will get this, sorry).
So, not exactly an empty waste of space. Plus it’s FUN and CHALLENGING! Computer games are the evidence I would whip out when people claim that kids will always take the easy option if given the choice. What computer game creators have got so, so right is that they know kids want to be challenged. Anyway. Computer game rant over. On to YouTube.
What’s Good About YouTube?
So what’s good about YouTube? It’s a portal of creativity, enterprise and fun, I don’t know how else to put it. Yes, there’s also a load of rubbish on it but whatever your child’s interest, there will be videos about it. Technically it’s a social media site but overwhelmingly it’s about the videos, so it gets its own section here.
Lots. Social media has allowed people to keep in touch across the world, when without it relationships could fade out easier. There are lots of people who I like and like keeping in touch with, but I wouldn’t realistically feel like I had the time to connect with otherwise. It’s lovely seeing people from my old school getting married and having kids, for example.
Social media also opens up insights into different parts of the world, both geographically and otherwise, that we may not discover on our own. I really enjoying following some accounts about different religions on Instagram for example, because I find it really interesting and the content allows me to find the answers to questions that I might not ask otherwise. Travel content is all over social media, increasing tourism for lots of places (Santorini, Bali, etc) since its invention.
Social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube provide platforms that encourage the development of creative skills such as photography and videography that users probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. I can’t imagine another scenario where I would bother making a video or googling photography tips if I didn’t need to for my social media work.
Social media is also convenient- this can be abused but it’s great having one platform (like Facebook) where you can get in touch with your whole address book.
A lot of my job as a writer and digital marketer requires me to be on social media- I’m on it a lot, I’ve seen the highs and the lows and felt the benefits and downsides of the thing. I don’t believe we should demonise digital tech, but that we should have a healthy respect for its potential for both good and bad.
So, here are my top tips for keeping kids safe online- both relationship-based, and practical technical tips.
How to equip your child with the inner tools they need to keep safe online
- Take an active interest in what your kids do on ‘screens’. If you’re not interested, fake it. Ask about their game, sit with them and strategise, compliment them on cool creative things they’ve done
2. Leading on from point 1, do not bad mouth digital tech. I know it can be frustrating when children spend a seemingly excessive amount of time online, gaming or watching videos or on social media- but criticising it is only going to make them want to hide their interest from you, which is the exact opposite of what you want.
3. Lead by example. If you are constantly on your phone, this will be your child’s normal, and guess what will happen when they get a phone of their own? If you talk about how many likes and subscribers you have or want or are disappointed you didn’t get, your child will start to learn that external approval is important for self-esteem, and that is not a lesson you want them to learn.
4. Do positive self-talk, in front of your kid. Use phrases like “I’m pretty pleased with that,” or “I’m proud of myself” or “It’s not perfect but I did my best and that’s fine with me” to help negate the perfectionist image that can be overwhelming for social media users. When you look in the mirror, don’t frown- smile. Say “Lovely” before you walk out of the door. It feels weird at first but I’ve been doing this for a while when I see my kids looking at me when I’m brushing my hair etc, and it creates a positive atmosphere for us all.
5. Respect your child’s boundaries, both physical and otherwise. This will help them learn that their instincts and boundaries are supposed to be upheld by others and will promote a stronger reaction when someone oversteps the mark.
6. Keep an open dialogue about everything. It is a common thought that some subjects are inappropriate for children. I would say that the kind of subjects kids come across in day to day life need to be talked about (here’s how we addressed sex and condoms). They will come across less savoury subjects so having open conversations about them leads to a greater understanding, as well as taking the novelty factor out of it. A general thing that I like to bear in mind is that if a parent is very happy and open to talk about something with, that thing becomes less appealing to the child to explore it on their own- marginally, at least.
7. Avoid punishment. Here is my article on why we don’t use punishment, and what we do instead. Children who are punished are more likely to lie and use avoidance behaviour to get out of adults uncovering the truth. When this is translated to a potential dangerous online situation it becomes of extreme concern. If a child knows that when they mess up they can talk to their parents for help without punishment, they are less likely to go behind their parents’ backs.
Practical technical tools for keeping kids safe online
- Have the family computer in a public place. The reasons for this should be obvious; kids are less likely to start poking around in dodgy places if other family members could walk in any time.
2. Put adult controls on social media accounts. On Roblox, for example, our 7 year old cannot use the message facility to contact other players. On Instagram I would recommend kids having a ‘private’ account where only accepted followers can see their pictures. For every social media channel there will be guides online about how to increase safety for your child. Here are some I found for Instagram and Facebook:
There is also an excellent website called Protect Young Eyes, which has a ton of information for parents on all the most popular social media channels, including features and information specifically for different devices. It can strike fear into the hearts of parents when you see all the potential avenues for contact, but that is what the rest of this guide is for!
3. Get your own accounts. Learn how each social media platform works, so that you are aware of what kind of content is popular on each one and how the contact faculties work. Follow your kids on social media so you can see what they’re posting.
4. Have your child leave their phone downstairs when they go to bed. This is for multiple reasons – to get a better sleep, for one- but they are also less likely to make silly tired mistakes and if you are really concerned about them, you can check their phone. This is not popular with some parents and I did just say to respect children’s boundaries, but I think this one depends on many things such as the age and maturity of your child and the individual situation. If I thought one of my kids was in genuine danger I’d hack the whole internet to keep them safe, you know?
5. Talk to your child’s friends and their parents. Find out about their attitudes to social media and what they let their kids do. If your child is around other people’s houses, chances are they will have access to apps that they don’t at home or on their devices and this way you can be prepared to chat about anything they might not be comfortable with.
6. Give your kid an unlimited Blame Me Pass. I love this idea. A Blame Me Pass is where your child knows that if they ever feel uncomfortable and want to leave a situation, they can blame you- “my Mum needs me home for XYZ/ my Mum said I have to go home early because of XYZ”. It means that they have an easy ‘out’ if someone in their vicinity is doing something they’re not happy with, without losing face or other negative social consequences.
7. Practise Red Flags. We’ve done this since the kids were tiny and I think it’s a great idea. Red Flags are behaviours that immediately make us go “huh? Is that right?” Someone asking for a photograph of them could be a Red Flag, as could asking for their address or other personal information. As soon as kids feel a Red Flag coming up, they need to talk to a parent or trusted adult to get help.
I said this was a 5-minute guide, so I should leave it there. Please check out my other parenting posts for more tips and advice on everything from sleeping to tantrums. I might add more to this guide if people have other tips and tricks for keeping their kids safe online. What do you do to keep your kids safe?