The online cyber world is an important part of life for children and young people. Having regular and open conversations with them about their lives online is vital to ensuring that they have a safe and positive experience. Many parents can find it difficult to know where to start or how to begin the conversation. It’s also a reminder that we can easily find ourselves spending too much time online and responding too readily to the ping of the phone rather than our immediate surroundings.
Young people, the digital natives, have never known a time when technology was not fully embedded in their lives—the telephone attached to the wall is more like science fiction than reality. When young people spend too much time online, unsupervised and without any limits, it can have a negative impact on them in many ways—including their physical and mental health, their education, their ability to concentrate and their ability to connect and engage with other people.
Online activity can become addictive—the young person might find it more difficult to engage in other areas of life such as school, regular meal times, after school activities, outdoor activities and spending time with family and friends. We know that all of these areas are important for positive mental health and well-being in young people, so neglecting them can lead a young person to feel depressed, anxious or isolated.
There are also issues around safety—by posting online your child is creating a digital footprint. This is a trail that one leaves online when posting and sharing content. The anonymous and instant nature of the internet can also leave young people exposed to greater risks such as cyber bullying and harm from potential sexual predators.
Many parents are struggling to keep up with the rapidly changing nature of technology and to fully understand what their children are doing online. There are a few things that you can do to help keep your child safe online:
- Talk to your child about their online activity, including what they like doing online, the apps and games they enjoy and what bloggers and vloggers they follow.
- Explore whether they have any concerns about their online safety and what they could do if they ever felt unsafe or frightened
- Review your child’s privacy settings with them—this can be a good conversation starter about privacy, what is deemed appropriate when sharing and the reasons why one might choose to keep some information offline.
- Have clear rules and boundaries around the use of the internet and model this behaviour yourself.
This article was contributed by a member of Parenting Limerick, a network of parenting and family support organisations in Limerick. For more information on this and other topics go to www.loveparenting.ie.