Helping children stay safe online during the Covid-19 pandemic

Safer Internet Day takes place in February and is a great opportunity for parents to take some time to speak to your child about being safe and making the most of their time online.

One of the big impacts of the Covid19 Pandemic is the disruption to family life, with parents and children spending more time than usual at home, and online. Digital devices are providing many benefits, whether it’s to help children to continue their education through distance learning, using social media to connect with their friends and relatives, or using technology for entertainment, such as streaming content from Netflix or YouTube.

While all families have their own unique circumstances, many parents have similar concerns when it comes to their child’s use of technology. There are some simple steps you can take to help your child’s engagement with digital technology and the internet.

Start the conversation
One of the most effective ways to ensure that your child or teenager has a positive experience online is to have an open, and ongoing conversation with them. Talk to them about what they do online, and reassure them that if anything happens that they are uncomfortable with, they should not feel embarrassed or afraid to speak to you about it. If your child feels like they can talk to you about their online activities without judgement, or fear of the consequences, it will lead to more honesty, and they will be better equipped to deal with any negative experiences.

For parents of young children, it is never too early to think about their online safety. Even if you are only beginning to discover the internet together, have a conversation with them about the important things to look out for, such as who they talk to online, and about sharing personal information.

Strike a balance
Unfortunately, there is no magic number for screen time, and it is worth bearing in mind that children use their devices for lots of different reasons – to learn, create, play, and interact with their friends. Under the current circumstances households are using technology for a variety of purposes, every family is different and may face different demands, however setting clear boundaries and rules can be an effective way of managing screen time, and also making sure that you set a good example, and follow those rules too.

Be Kind Online
Discuss the importance of being respectful to others online, and the impact that their behaviour may have on people. Encourage them to consider the other person’s perspective, and how hurtful remarks or actions could make someone feel.

By fostering empathy, and helping them to understand their own boundaries and level of comfort, it will encourage them to become more responsible and considerate users of the internet.

Children and teenagers are documenting and sharing lots of information about their lives online, and may not be fully aware of the potential risks or the impact it may have on their online reputation.

Talk to them about checking their privacy settings regularly. Many social network accounts are ‘public’ by default, meaning that anyone can potentially see your child’s posts or pictures. However, it is a good idea to remind them that even with the tightest privacy controls, content that is posted online can very easily be copied and shared to a wider audience that they cannot control.

Encourage your child to be familiar with the blocking and reporting features on platforms they use. Most websites and social networks provide tools for users to report inappropriate and offensive content.

Apps and Parental Controls
Get to know the apps and websites your child is using and ensure they are age-appropriate. Webwise has developed a comprehensive guide to popular apps and games on their Parents Hub. Use available parental controls to help reduce the risk of your child encountering inappropriate content online, they can be set up on most internet enabled devices such as computers, smartphones, tablets and games consoles. Parental controls can also be set up through your internet service provider, and in online services such as Netflix and YouTube. For parents of young children it’s important that there is very close supervision of their online activity, and that they are only online when you are with them.

This article was contributed by Webwise on behalf of Parenting Limerick. Parenting Limerick is a network of parenting and family support organisations. Webwise is the Irish Internet Safety Awareness Centre, part of the Professional Development Service for Teachers, a Department of Education & Skills-funded support service. Webwise is co-funded by the Department of Education & Skills and co-financed by the European Union’s Connecting Europe Facility.