As parents and carers, our very first instinct is to protect our children. My mum still goes to grab my hand to cross the road when I am with her, her instinct is to look after me, even though I have adult children of my own! In their earliest years, when they are helpless and obviously vulnerable, we do everything we can to keep our children safe. We buy monitors, baby gates, specialist car seats and read all about diet and health, every little cough or rash is analyzed and fretted about.
As children get older, most parents relax more and can see that their children are able to navigate some risks for themselves. We slowly manage them to use kitchen implements and to walk to school on their own. As they get older, we marvel at how independent they have become, and how they can become self-sufficient for increasing periods of time. But we are always there, when needed to provide guidance, advice or just a cuddle.
Cyber awareness is an aspect of safety which is increasingly an issue for young people, and one which most parents feel ill-equipped to deal with. When I was growing up, we didn’t have the internet and certainly no-one had a mobile phone. My parents didn’t need to worry about the possibility that I would be cyber-bullied, witness inappropriate videos or be groomed by a stranger posing as a friend. The games I played were board games or early electronic non-interactive ones like Pacman, these were of no risk to me as they did not expose me to anything of concern.
Modern children are not as lucky, and the risks for everyone are growing. Cyber-crime is on the increase. Children are spending an increasing amount of time online and often parents are unaware of what they are doing or what they are being exposed to. I sympathise, it is hard to police your child and particularly challenging if you have several children in your household. However, there is much you can do to reduce the risks for those you love.
Firstly, and most importantly, talk to your child about their online lives and possible risks. Agree a plan for how they will behave online and how they will speak to you about their worries. There are a number of physical safeguards which you can put in place to restrict the access your child has to particular sites too. As a school we would recommend that you put these in place.
Secondly, reduce their onscreen time and be a good example. As parents, if we spend a substantial amount of time on our phones, our children will copy this. Limiting screen time and rules about phone usage are a good way of managing this. Why not try a whole tech-free day?
Thirdly, be legally compliant. Do not let your child play games or use apps which are meant for older children or adults. There is a reason for the age limit and it is about protecting children. Primary -aged children should not have their own social media accounts. We should allow our children the time to be children, rather than exposing them to the world of adults before they are ready. Many of us, as adults, have been upset by something said to us on social media or something we have heard or seen. How much worse that must be for a child of seven or eight years old? This protection is part of our role as loving parents and is just as important as the safety and support we gave them when they were just babies.
Enjoy your half term break, please use it to have tech-free family days and see how long you can go without checking your own mobile phone, you may be surprised by how hard it is.