With Safer Internet Day (5 February) fast approaching and children due to go back to school next week, now is the time to educate parents on how they can keep their children smartphone and internet safe.
Put in place parental controls on mobile devices
Before you hand your child or teenager a device that enables them to connect to the internet, it's important to familiarise yourself with the types of parental controls that you can activate on the phone. Parental controls allow you to limit access to which websites and content that your children can access as well as restrict the use of apps or even usage at certain times of the day.
While controls can be set at the device level, there are also various software packages available that allow you to set controls on home wi-fi or across devices used by the family. By using these tools you can have peace of mind that you're helping to keep your kids safe from accessing inappropriate content.
If you child will be taking their phone to school, remember to check their school's policy on smartphone use as some schools restrict phone usage at school while others have a more relaxed approach.
Teach yourself and your child about the safe use of social media
We all like to stay connected to our friends and family and with the array of social networking apps and platforms available, children are no different. There is no replacement for making sure you regularly talk to your child about their online activity and how they are using these platforms. By staying engaged and aware of how your children may be using their devices you can help ensure they are staying safe and acting smartly.
Some social media apps have age limits which consider maturity levels to match this with access to appropriate content. Privacy settings can also be changed to be appropriate for the age of the child. So, it really pays for parents to check these terms and the use of social media accounts to ensure they understand the rules and also make sure their children do too.
Build screen time around family activities
It's important for parents to talk to their children about how often they are using their mobile device and for what purposes to allow them to provide some rules and guidance around appropriate usage that is focused on ensuring a balance between screen time and other activities.
The UK Royal College of Pediatrics and Child's Health (RCPCH) recently released guidelines suggesting that if screen time is interfering with what families want to do or a child's sleep, for instance, rather than setting strict time limits on children's screen use, which is often ineffective, parents should replace screen time with activities that encourage family and face to face interaction or encourage more sleep, exercise and less snacking while using screens.
The RCPCH also recommends that families avoid screen use one hour before bedtime so that they can focus on winding down before sleep. The guidelines suggest that parents adjust the amount of time spent on screens by all members of the family, using age appropriate boundaries, depending on the what is a priority for them and their child.
Read more about the RCPCH guidance here.
Have an open dialogue with your children to prevent bullying
In many respects, cyberbullying is like face to face bullying – it is about relationships and managing those relationships. It's important to talk to children and help them develop good strategies and behaviours to deal with any kind of bullying and to prevent them from bullying others.
Cyberbullying can include abusive or mean texts or messages, excluding others in an online space, as well as posting nasty gossip or videos or pictures online. It's important to setup an open dialogue so children know that they can and should talk to parents, teachers or other trusted adults if they are experiencing bullying and that there are steps that can be taken to remedy situations. For example, block the bully, report the behaviour and even just take a break from the online world.
Visit eSafety.gov.au for more resources and assistance.
Help manage your child's spending
A smartphone will often be a child or teenager's first interaction with spending money or managing personal credit. Giving your child their own phone can be a great opportunity to teach financial awareness and literacy. It's important that they understand how their mobile plan or spending works and if they need to limit their spending that they know how to do that.
Depending on the maturity of your child, you may want to help manage the spending on your child's phone and there are some simple ways to do that which include: keeping passwords safe and avoiding sharing any account passwords or PINs that would enable your child to make purchases, including in-app purchases, from their device; use vouchers for purchasing to avoid giving access to your credit card; set spend limits for in-app purchasing, by contacting your mobile service provider or when you set up an account in the relevant App store.