Sometimes I envy my mother. Not the laundering cloth nappies part or living without a dishwasher. That would have sucked.
But Mum never had to deal with fights over excessive downloads. It never crossed her mind that some perv in Ukraine might be leering at pictures of her kids. Bullying was real but it didn’t follow kids home. Plagiarism meant copying passages from the Encyclopedia Britannica. The phone was used to make – wait for it – phone calls and it remained plugged into the kitchen wall.
Things are different now. Many Australian homes have almost a device-per-person. Access to the internet is essential for most kids’ education. It’s also fun. Whether you think this new connectedness is a good or a bad thing, it’s here to stay. As parents we can bitch about it or work out ways to keep our kids safe – from predators, bullying and pornography. They also need to be safe from parental wrath when they blow out the data usage or get sprung for plagiarism.
There’s no definitive list of dos and don’ts to helping your kids navigate the online world. It’s changing as fast as the internet but here’s a list I like to keep in mind. I’m always adding to it and listening to the advice of people I trust – teachers, police, IT specialists and other parents.
1. Be online yourself. There’s no point in saying, ‘I hate Facebook and don’t understand Instagram’. If your kids are on those platforms, make it your business to understand how they work. You don’t have to be an active user, just an informed one. Talk about privacy settings.
2. Be clear about the ‘foreverness’ of the internet. That posting something, even as a joke, even if it’s deleted after five minutes can have far reaching and very damaging consequences. Use kids’ fear of embarrassment to help them understand: ‘Imagine if that picture of you in the pool when you were three was shown at school assembly.’ Sexting is worse than embarrassing – it could lead to serious legal consequences.
3. Talk to your kids about cyber bullying before it happens. Explain they should never engage with a bully but should feel they can talk to you or another adult they trust.
4. Consider whether your child needs an internet enabled phone. My kids have ‘dumbphones’. Cheap as chips from newsagents or the post office. All they need to call or text if the bus is running late or they are going to a friend’s place.