Gen Z has well and truly become the Intenet Generation, and with that internet safety becomes an even more prevalent issue. According to a 2020-21 report by the UK's Ofcom, those aged 5-15 use internet-enabled devices for an average of 6 hours per day, highlighting just how much time the UK’s kids spend online. However, that same report details, shockingly, that only 27% of parents use broadband filters to prevent access to explicit online content.
With this in mind, experts at US legal marketplace UpCounsel have offered five expert tips for parents on how to keep their children safe online.
“Whilst we adults are often put to shame by our children’s ability with technology, this doesn’t mean kids are fully in control of what they experience on the internet. Unfortunately, online bullying is a prevalent issue that affects children mentally in a highly negative way, sometimes suffering in silence as they don’t know what steps to take to combat issues online.
So, what steps can parents take to keep their children safe online?
— 1. Set rules and stick to them
Being the provider of the internet as well as the majority of their technology, you as the parents have control over what media your child consumes online. Firstly, have a mature conversation with your child about what they like to do online, as well as how long they think they use their device for. This will help you gauge if they are being healthy with their time online.
“If you have concerns, limit their screen time by setting shut-off times or other boundaries that work for you.”
— 2. Know what tech devices your kids are using
“To fully understand and know what your children are doing online, it’s highly important you keep on top of what devices they’re using. This can be dedicated gaming devices such as an Xbox or PlayStation, a laptop or computer and also a mobile phone.”
Ofcom’s aforementioned report stated that 100% of the 3,300 teenagers in the 16-17 range they surveyed had their own mobile device, with that number reducing slightly to 97% for those aged 12-15. To access the internet, 98% of the 16-17 age range use personal devices such as a mobile or laptop, with that number again reducing slightly to 94% in the 12-15 age range.
“What those figures represent is that a huge proportion of online activity comes through exclusively personal devices, which are harder to manage than household communal devices. Encourage your child to be open regarding accessing their devices, and when possible keep abreast of their search history. If anything of concern or note arises, talk to your son or daughter.”
If the pattern of behaviour continues, step three is the next course of action.
— 3. Be aware of parental blocks and other in-built safety features
Modern technology has responded to the issue of cyberbullying by featuring increasingly strong levels of protection, through physical changes such as fingerprint sensors to over-the-air software updates.
On Apple devices, within the settings you can limit screen time as well as control the content through restriction software that comes free with the device. Beyond that, the messenger feature even scans images for potential nudity and responds with a viewer warning, alongside the ability to inform an adult.
On Android devices, you can create a profile that lets you have administrative control over settings such as passwords or what default setting the browser uses. Downloadable apps can limit screen time, block online purchases and track the whereabouts of your child using the in-built location setting, a feature seen also on Apple devices.
Finally, your broadband provider can block explicit and illegal content using server technology, meaning that instead of having to manually check and block websites you’re worried about, it’s done automatically.
— 4. Learn to spot when your child might be struggling with online behaviour
When children become victims of online bullying, or other kinds of threats, you will be able to notice a change in their behaviours if you pay attention. Has your child become more reclusive? Perhaps they’re prone to anger after playing a video game, especially one promoting shooting or other violence?
“Again, in this situation, communication is king: talk to your son or daughter about their experiences, what made them react emotionally, and from there monitor further how they’re doing. You may not be able to solve the issues immediately, but showing that you’re caring and aware will make a huge difference to their outlook over time.”
— 5. If your child is being cyberbullied, make sure they know what to do
This sounds relatively simple but when you chat to your child about online safety, make them fully aware that the first thing they need to do is tell an adult what’s going on. The pressures of bullying on young shoulders can have a devastating impact on their mental health.
“We should help our children identify what is online bullying, and how they should deal with it from both sides, and how important it is to save the evidence too. Taking these big steps will drastically limit how effective online bullying is.”
Ofcom report into screen time: