As a parent/carer, you don’t have to be a tech genius to help children and young people stay safe online.
Please make sure that before they are on social media, they know not to share contact details or post anything that tells people where they live, go to school or hang out. They should also not private message or one-to-one video chat with people they’ve never met offline. They also need to know how to block or report people who hassle them. Remember a digital footprint isn’t just what your child shares, it’s also what is shared and said about them – remember this when posting about them!
Here are 3 ways to support and educate your child in ensuring their digital footprint will not negatively affect their lives.
1. Life Skill: be a confident communicator
Children need someone to talk to when things go wrong online – be it for themselves or someone they know. They need to feel confident they can ask for help, even if they’ve been doing something they shouldn’t have been, such as signing up for a social media account while underage, or sending inappropriate images of themselves.
Don’t wait until something bad happens. Reassure your child that they can tell you anything and you won’t get angry with them.
Children and young people need guidance on how to communicate with others safely and nicely. Parents can help by being role models in their own internet use. And, if something does go wrong, the ability to complain is a skill children are never too young to learn. Knowing how and where to report “bad things” that happen is key for a positive experience online.
2. Life Skill: be a critical thinker
We hear a lot about fake news, but being a critical thinker online isn’t just about being able to spot misinformation or lies. It’s about knowing when a website is giving you advice that is either wrong or potentially harmful, and about recognising and rejecting peer pressure to join in with online trends that could hurt you, or someone you know.
A simple test is to have your child ask the question, ‘Who wrote this, and why?’
Are they trying to sell you something, con you into sharing personal information or an inappropriate image, or make you look stupid? Do they have their own agenda? The more your child questions what they see and hear online, the more protected they will be.
3. Life Skill: be a capable tools user
Companies are building tools to make the internet as safe as it can be, and it’s important that children know how to use them. For example, setting unique passwords and anti-virus software can keep your information private.
Being aware of how to block people on apps and services, and how to adjust safety and privacy settings, is as important a life skill as learning how to swim or cross the road safely.
From a young age, teach children that when they sign up to a new social media app, games forum or online service, they must limit who can contact them, and block people who make them feel uncomfortable or threaten them. Teach them to look for the tools and settings symbol (often a cog) and make sure they know that tools are there to help them stay in control – not to stop from them doing things.
It is probably too much to hope that they will all now become model internet citizens, but at least they have been given some of the tools they need to navigate a digital ocean.
BIS Abu Dhabi School Counselling Team