Most parents are aware of online threats, but this needs to be an ongoing conversation. This is a constantly evolving environment, and parents can benefit from up-to-the-minute insights and practical tips on how to protect their children from potential online threats, foster responsible internet usage, and maintain a healthy digital balance.
Paranoid vs prepared
Jessie-Anne Bird is an Educational Psychologist at The JHB Parent & Child Counselling Centre and frequently works with cases dealing with the complexities of the internet.
We asked her about getting the right balance between paranoid and prepared. “Parents won’t get it right all of the time, and neither will their children.
There will certainly be times of trial and error, but by being open with children, families can learn how to survive the fast-evolving digital world together,” she says.
Jessie-Anne believes that parents are aware of online dangers, but their insight needs to be constantly updated as dangers change and shift. Recent media reports (https://www.news24.com/news24/tech-and-trends/online-predators-target-childrens-webcams-studyfinds-20230512) have spotlighted a massive increase in online predators using malware to compromise a child’s computer system and gain remote access to their webcam.
According to the Center for Cyber Safety and Education 40% of kids aged 4–8 reported that they had chatted online with a stranger. Apart from that, the internet is filled with explicit or adult material like porn, violent imagery and gambling advertisements.
Online predators look for new opportunities and use fresh techniques to connect to their targets.
Luke Lamprecht is the Head of Advocacy at the NPO, Woman and Men Against Child Abuse. He shared that while his daughter was searching online for free music sites, a porn site hijacked her phone, and she was spammed with pornography. This type of situation is commonplace.
Luke had intentionally created an environment where his child was comfortable discussing her online experiences, concerns, and questions.
This open dialogue allowed Luke to act and guide his child. He says,“ Many kids end up engaging with inappropriate content by accident. They feel shame. They are terrified that parents will take their device away. Devices are a lifeline for our kids”.
Culture of communication
Digital access has been added to the list of basic needs that includes air, water, food, sleep, shelter, clothing and warmth.
An open and trusting relationship with your child could be affected if devices are taken away. Threats to confiscate devices might make your child more inclined to hide things from you.
“ Developing a culture of open communication in your household when your children are relatively young will facilitate keeping that connection when they are in their teen years,” says Jessie-Anne.
We want our children to turn to us parents to help them navigate the complexities of the physical and online world – and as they move from dependence to increasing independence, they need to develop the ability to engage critically with information.
Helping children develop their critical thinking skills will reduce the risk of them being taken advantage of because of their naivety. This means encouraging debate and open conversation with your children and encouraging them not to take information at face value.
Jessie-Anne explains, “Listen first, advise later. Through careful and reflective conversation, teens and tweens can be guided towards problem-solving and critical thinking in a way that may even surprise their parents.
Parents can risk alienating their children from the conversation by jumping in with too many suggestions or by being too directive. This is especially true when parents feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable with a topic.”
Keep up with the trends
Parents should try to keep up with trends and new platforms, not just to be vigilant but also to maintain a connection with their children and to understand the world they are living in.
The digital world is here to stay, and it is an essential part of the modern-day social landscape. Allow your children to show you around their online world and encourage them to include you through non-judgemental engagement.
Luke likes to use the metaphor that giving children unfettered access to devices is like giving an unlicensed driver a Ferrari with no brakes. “ Parents have a duty of care to secure their kids’ phones. Parental controls are critical.
This is a combination of filtering software – which is not spyware; good relationships, and checking your child’s phone. This can be a sensitive topic, as it involves striking a balance between respecting their privacy and ensuring their safety.
Your kids’ right to privacy never trumps their safety. Be the adult in the room. You are the parent, not their friend,” he explains.
Make a contract
A striking piece of advice from Luke is that a device should never be given as a “gift or reward”. The era of Smartphones and Children is here– and we cannot control.
Trying to alienate them from this world will not work. However, if smartphones are rephrased as “ powerful tools that require responsibility and hence consequences”, your child starts their smartphone journey with a different perspective.
Many experts in this field recommend signing a contract with your child. A contract helps establish clear expectations and guidelines for smartphone usage.
It outlines the rules and boundaries that both you and your child agree upon, creating a framework for responsible and healthy smartphone use. You can download a free contract here: https://www.thedigitallawco.com/parents/smartphone-contract-teenagers/
In an increasingly digital world, safeguarding your child’s online well-being is a paramount responsibility. By educating yourself, setting clear boundaries, utilising parental controls, promoting responsible behaviour, and actively monitoring their online activities, you can promote your child’s safety and help them develop a healthy and positive relationship with the internet.
Luke says that, unfortunately, many parents are lazy and need to be reminded that PG means “parental guidance”, not “parent gone.” Be the sensible voice amidst the chaos, and remember to ask for help if necessary.
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