Wondering how to keep your child safe online? Help them develop digital resilience.
Parenting in this digital age can seem overwhelming especially as technological development seems to be moving so fast. How do we know if we are doing the right thing? Is my child too young to have a smart phone? How much screen time is acceptable? Is social media harming my child’s mental health? What dangers are they exposed to with online grooming or cyberbullying? Are video games like Fortnite addictive? Is my child sexting or visiting porn sites? What apps should I allow them to use and at what age? Are they oversharing photos and images with their friends? The list seems endless.
Never underestimate your role as a parent whatever your child’s age. The internet offers a wealth of information, connection, opportunity and fun but it’s important that we help children learn how to use it responsibly, positively and with resilience.
What is digital resilience?
Resilience is a core skill that children should learn from a young age. By developing resilience, children learn how to respond well to adversity and stress. It helps them learn from mistakes without crushing self esteem or confidence. It teaches them that they they cannot control external factors, but they can control how they interact and react to them. All of this is important when it comes to navigating the world – both online and offline.
The digital environment that our children are growing up in is very different from the one we grew up in, but it’s an inevitable part of their future. As parents, we need to do our best to embrace it and understand it, so that we can support them through each developmental phase.
Top Tips for Online Safety
Here are our top 10 tips for helping children navigate the online world safely, positively and with resilience.
Keep the same boundaries and family guidelines online as offline.
Set limits to online usage and know your child’s friends. Sit down with them and go through their apps together. Be curious about the apps they love. Make sure that their privacy settings are correct, they are using age appropriate apps, geo-location is switched off and nothing untoward is happening on messaging groups. It’s about making sure that they are safe, accessing the right content and you know what they are doing online. For younger children, there are parental control apps you can use to block inappropriate content and set time limits such as Qustodio if you feel it will help you.
Practice what you preach so are you are a good role model.
Put down your phone when your child talks to you, don’t use it while driving, be polite in your social interactions online, don’t overshare on social media and keep your phone downstairs at night. Try and keep a house rule of no technology after 7pm (and for you, at least until they are in bed).
Communication is key!
Talk to them honestly about the risks on the internet. If your child does come across some inappropriate, embarrassing or mean content online, be open and discuss it. Give them the opportunity to talk about difficult issues or compromising images. Some children are scared to talk to their parents due to fear that their phone will be confiscated or the app deleted. Allow them to feel they can trust you with anything in life.
Encourage face to face connections with family and friends.
Technology use should have reasonable limits which are age appropriate and time restricted. Being bored stimulates creativity. Make time for unstructured play, board games, dancing in the kitchen, cooking and most importantly, have family dinners without phones to encourage conversation. On play dates, promote fun offline activities such as arts and crafts, lego, games, football, badminton, cooking etc instead of allowing them to spend all their time together on video games.
Bedrooms should be tech-free zones.
Don’t allow video games, computers or phones in their bedrooms. The light from devices suppresses the production of melatonin especially in 9-15 year olds which keeps them awake at night. Encourage your child to put down their devices at least an hour before they go to bed and keep devices out of their bedrooms so that they are not disturbed by the buzzing of incoming messages or the need to check how many likes they have received on their recent Instagram post. Keep temptation away.
Don’t just monitor them online—interact with them, so you can understand what they are doing and be a part of it to ensure that it is age appropriate. Co-view and co-play with your children when they are using screens—it encourages bonding and helps you learn more about what they are doing online. Be friends with them on their social media accounts or link your accounts.
Don’t use technology to keep your child quiet or calm them down.
It’s very easy to give a young child a phone in a restaurant so that they don’t play up, cry or run around. Colouring and communication engage children in a more mindful, calm way. To build resilience, children need to learn to calm themselves down. Practising mindfulness with your child helps them learn how to self regulate and develop self awareness. Many children recognise that after playing a stressful computer game like Fortnite for as little as 45 minutes, they feel more easily agitated and quick to anger as their brain is in fight flight mode. Mindfulness helps them understand how to calm their brain with breathing and meditation, and children quickly recognise the difference.
Instill family values of kindness, empathy and respect.
Social media can be a great place for teenagers to grow and connect with others, but remind them that they need to act appropriately like they would in the real world. Be kind, stand up to bullies, don’t retaliate and don’t share compromising photographs or thoughts. Nothing posted online is ever ‘private’ and it leaves a digital footprint, so cannot be removed completely. Even apps like Snapchat can be screen grabbed, downloaded and saved forever. Warn them or show them videos of the risks of predators online who exploit children and don’t be afraid to have any discussions around topics they initiate.
To build digital resilience, children have to make mistakes and learn from them.
As Einstein said, ‘A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Children need to make mistakes to learn and grow. However, be acutely aware of any changes in your child’s behaviour. If they start to get withdrawn, irritable, angry, lose their appetite or comfort eat and ignore personal hygiene, make sure that they haven’t become prey to sexting, bullying or developing social media depression. (Instagram is the platform that leads more young people to report feelings of anxiety and worries about body image). Seek professional help if you have any concerns.
Talk and listen to your child every day.
Ask them open questions such as ‘What was the best part of your day today?’ ‘Has anything troubled you today, let’s get rid of it?’. Be interested in what they tell you and truly listen to them. Give them the gift of your full attention without judgement. A child that is listened to, feels valued and more confident. Talking helps reduce the risk of manifestation and stops anxiety spiralling out of control. Practicing mindfulness at home helps a child to develop their emotional intelligence skills which enables them to have happier, safer and more positive relationships both online and offline.
Useful sites for children and e-safety:
If you are concerned about your child’s mental health or how to manage the digital world with them, please click here to contact the Universal Mindfulness team or email us confidentially on firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an informal chat. We offer 1-1 coaching to support child, teen and adult wellbeing.