In my last few years of teaching cyber and digital wellness, I have yet to come across any parent who is not worried about parenting in an online world. We all innately know something isn’t quite right about how children roam the internet so freely.
Yet as parents we are still so far from getting it right. The average parent spends the total of 46 minutes across the entire lifetime of a child discussing cyber safety. I can tell you a malicious groomer or scammer spends significantly more time working on infiltrating our children's online spaces.
So why are we failing? Simply put, we don’t know what we don’t know.
We were not schooled or parented in a time in which kids had access to complete strangers, malicious content and vast amounts of fake news
We are not programmed to think like big tech, who treat our children like early adopters of their brand
We hold too much trust that the systems and safeguards in the real world translate readily to the online world
We also assume the schools will take care of the subject
In reality, our children are a commodity on the internet and safeguards are only as good as the parent or guardian who implements them. Much like getting our kids to brush their teeth twice a day, it’s actually mostly down to us.
And just like developing good habits, thinking of good cyber practices as good habits to inculcate is key to making them stick. Here are a few ways to ensure your children can roam the internet safely:
1. Limit access
Cyber space was not built with children in mind - it doesn’t have child-friendly security baked in. In nearly all situations, software is built for adults and must be customised by the parent to ensure their child’s safety; even the apps targeted at kids need us grown-ups to go in and navigate the privacy controls. Every time a child downloads an app, make it your priority to scout the area and check for threats and dangers and lock them down before handing them over to the kids.
2. A family that scrolls together stays together
To fully understand their world, you need to be in it with them. Scroll with your children, see what they see, get excited about what excites them, comment and suggest how they can have a positive tech experience. Play games and build Pinterest pages with your child and see the online world through their eyes. Get involved in their playful little worlds, both online and offline.
3. Introduce Joy scrolling rather than doom scrolling
Show your children how technology can work for them and not the other way around. Show them how to identify if they are heading down a rabbit hole and how to get back on track. Remember, Big Tech relies on your children’s need for constant engagement. Make sure to mix it up and introduce kids to a variety of activities and uses for the internet that motivates them and inspires them.
4. Ensure they are in touch with your family values
As parents we need to realise that if our children have access to strangers on Discord, TikTok, etc., we are openly exposing them to different values systems, which is only healthy if they are in touch with their own. Ensure they maintain proper etiquette online. Are they aware of what’s ok to say and not to say? What’s ok to share and what’s not? Do they know what content they should be engaging with and what they shouldn’t? Most importantly, teach them how to converse online when they encounter a point of view different from their own.
5. Monkey see, Monkey do
If you're disengaged, always scrolling for a happier life on Instagram or browsing LinkedIn while at the dinner table, why would you expect anything different from your child’s behaviour? Have a distinct list of cyber rules displayed on your fridge and abide by them. Children learn by observing their parents’ behaviour, so practice what you preach. Parents who introduce cyber rules while kids are young are able find it a lot easier to get them to stick to the rules as they get older.
Kids are at a critical developmental stage where they are soaking up information and discovering their personalities. As parents, we need to be closely involved with their digital lives and help them navigate an increasingly complex online world with age-appropriate advice.
At Cyberlite Books, our approach to educating children and families is to engage with organisations with the same values, and bring a holistic view to discussing cyber safety. If we can teach the children, surely we can teach the adults how to turn on 2FA and update our software regularly.