Life online: What's it doing to our kids?

Author: Leigh van den Berg

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We may recently have been practising social distancing but, thanks to the internet, we’re more connected than ever before and the same goes for your child. Alas, just as they’re exposed to danger when they leave the house, the same goes when they explore the web. While you can’t always be there to watch their every scroll and click, there are things you can do to help protect them online.

 

Communication is key
 

KidsHealth.org, an online educational resource focused on child and adolescent health suggests talking to your kids about online use and behaviour. “Keep an open line of communication and make sure that they feel comfortable turning to you when they have problems online.”

 

Treat the digital world just like the real one

 

In the same way that there are dangers and challenges to be avoided in the physical world, there can be very real threats to be found online too. 


In an article for iMOM, an online parenting resource, author and speaker Dr Scott Turansky says “It’s unrealistic in our technology-driven world to isolate yourself, not get a phone or computer, or pretend you can avoid the Internet. Although you may delay your child’s involvement in the Internet, the reality of its presence in your home is inevitable. 


In the same way that threats in the real world need to be prepared for and avoided, online behaviour also needs the same attention. Known for his heartfelt parenting approach, Dr Turansky says parents should learn what is out there and “how the system works” to be better prepared.

 

Keep abreast of tech

 

If you don’t know how something works, how are you going to know the ins and outs of protecting your children from its perils? asks François Amigorena, chief executive of software firm IS Decisions. He says his first rule for helping parents approach online security is that they educate themselves. 


“Take the time to learn about something yourself if you don’t know. It’s worth remembering that some authority figures, even those at school, might give out of date or misinformed advice”, he told The Guardian. “I have known other parents who weren’t aware that an iPod can connect to the internet.” 

 

Beef up security with software

 

Another way to monitor what your child is doing online is to invest in computer monitoring software says psychotherapist Dr Robert Weiss. “If pressed to make a single recommendation, I go with Net Nanny,” he writes in Psychology Today. 


“The filtering and blocking features offered by Net Nanny are versatile and effective, as are the recording and reporting features. Additionally, Net Nanny is relatively easy to install and configure, usable on almost any device, and reasonably priced,” says Dr Weiss.

 

The bottom line

 

Ultimately, there’s a lot you can do to make the online world a less dangerous space for your children, but your best weapon will be a savvy child, says clinical psychologist Julia Simens in an article for Focus on the Family Canada, a family support-focused organisation. 


"The first line of defence is your own child’s ability to know when something just does not seem right and he gets an upsetting feeling," she says. In short, if your child is aware of the potential threats that live online and knows they can come to you for help and advice, you’ll be better equipped to keep them safe. 

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