Eimear Hutchinson: Tips for keeping your children safe online

Technology is playing a role in our children's daily lives, now more than ever. Here Eimear Hutchinson shares her advice on how to keep them safe
Eimear Hutchinson: Tips for keeping your children safe online

This period of isolation has undoubtedly opened children up to an online world. Picture: Stock, models

THERE is no doubt that technology will play a huge part in our children’s lives going forward, but there is a huge difference between educating kids in how to use a computer versus giving them free rein with a phone or tablet and fooling ourselves into thinking they are learning.

This period of isolation has undoubtably opened children up to an online world, from home-schooling via laptops to communication via phones and apps, perhaps sooner than some of us would have liked. And while, on one hand it is fantastic that children become computer literate from a young age, it is probably as good a time as any to set some ground rules around technology and start the conversation with children and teenagers in terms of what is right and what is safe in an online world.

First and foremost, make sure your children feel like they can talk to you if something should happens them online. Ensure that the narrative around the internet is a positive one. You want to make sure children are not scared to come and tell you they have encountered an issue online.

Ask them, out of interest rather than interrogation, what they enjoy online or what they do – make the conversation a positive one not one focused on rules and negativity.

Children can make mistakes online by perhaps making foolish statements or getting into arguments with strangers, so make sure they avoid using their real names when they are young.

Our digital footprint is near impossible to erase so you don’t want some error made by a 12 year old to be the first result returned in Google ten years later when a prospective employer Googles their name. Using an abbreviated username is a useful thing to do so, for example, instead of Eimear Hutchinson I might be eimhutch1984.

Parental controls work across tablets and computers and can give a parent a huge amount of control and oversight. You can block certain words being searched, you can see what a child has searched, what websites they’ve visited and you can even remotely shut down a tablet between certain hours.

If your child downloads an app or wants to play a game online google the name of the app/game along with the words ‘what a parent needs to know’ so you can be fully aware of the potential dangers.

Never let a phone, tablet or gaming console past the foot of the stairs – make sure they are used in visible places where there is no hiding what a child is up to. This should actually go for adults too, we should practise what we preach and phones disrupt our sleep patterns so they should remain out of sight when we need to relax, although if you’re up feeding a small baby in the dead of the night no one can judge!!!!

If your child decides they don’t want to be contacted by someone or they have reason to feel uncomfortable by someone online, encourage them to screenshot any conversations between said child and unwanted contact before they block them. Some apps like Snapchat, delete all conversations once the person is blocked and with no proof it may be hard to take anything further if there is reason to need to do so.

It is so important to teach your child what a ‘friend’ is when it comes to how they conduct themselves online.

We all know what a friend is in real life but the concept of ‘friends’ online has altered our idea of who we consider friends. You should teach your child to only connect with people they know.

We are all more than aware it is very easy for someone to appear as one thing online when the reality can be drastically different but children are far more naïve and immature than adults.

Look at your own phone/tablet habits and think about how they might appear to a child. Start by making small changes like having all the notifications for apps and emails turned off so even if you reach for your phone for whatever reason, there is nothing to draw you into using it immediately.

Cyber bulling is too big a topic for me to cover here, the only advice I will give is to look out for a change in behaviour with your child and their mobile phone/tablet – if they become either obsessive or they suddenly refuse to touch their phone there could be an issue there so it worth being mindful of certain changes in behaviour.

And if you give a teenager or child a phone you should do so on the premise that you have access to it whenever you want, you should have all passwords for phones and apps and be able to check in on things as you see fit.

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