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Our parents had it good! Raising kids in the 70’s and 80’s, whilst not without its challenges, would have been much simpler than having to navigate the parenting landscape of today. Monitoring the type of music your child listened to and the TV shows they watched, and drilling into them to be home before the streetlights came on, really was the extent of it.

Today, not only are there 30 more types of milk to choose from but the rapid rate that technology is advancing brings with it a multitude of parenting challenges. How do we prepare our children for the unknown workforce of tomorrow? How do we enable them to embrace technology with safe limits? How do we monitor multiple channels with unlimited content? How do we keep them safe when predators aren’t just strangers in public, and bullies aren’t just in the school yard?

If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that technology plays an integral part in allowing people to work and continue their education at home. We know that the fourth revolution is upon us with technology replacing plenty of jobs whilst allowing others to be streamlined. There is no doubt about it, our children need to embrace technology and we need to support them in doing so.

I have no doubt that keeping your kids safe online is one of the many things causing you sleepless nights. However, implementing the three steps of cyber safety will go a long way in mitigating potential risk. 

1) Controlling access is critical to ensuring your child is safe online, before providing access to a device it is important that you setup filtering and adjust privacy settings. Start with the device itself by utilising the parental control tools in the settings section of the device. This will enable you to block access to inappropriate apps, the ability to download other apps and set limits on screentime.

Next, tackle the browser, turn on Google safe search and YouTube restricted mode settings. For your older kids you might want to consider blocking access to entertainment and social media late at night in order to force them to take a break. On that note ensure access to social media and gaming apps are safe by turning on privacy settings and removing location visibility where possible. Another way to safeguard primary school children is to ensure all accounts and apps are setup with your email address and only you have access to the password.

2) Setting boundaries when using technology is imperative and involves you establishing clear rules and expectations for your children when using devices and going online. Maybe you want to create a digital contract, or maybe you would prefer to have a verbal discussion and put an agreed upon list about the appropriate ways to behave online on your fridge for easy reference? Once rules are set, ensure to reinforce them when broken or kept, for example have consequences for bad behaviour and reward for good behaviour.

Another great way to set boundaries is to formalise a screen time schedule. For primary school students ensure that it is very structured, for example, between 6.30pm – 7.30pm each day. It is recommended for high school students that you have a clear ‘off time’ instead, for example, no screens after 9.00pm. You may want to set physical boundaries in your home as well, such as no devices at the dining table or devices in the lounge room only.

3) Open communication is critical to keeping your kids safe online. Chat regularly with your children about what apps they like to use and why, tailor your message around specific apps to target what they might be facing. For example, if your teenager is spending a lot of time on TikTok ensure you talk to them about taking part in dangerous and inappropriate challenges.

It is important to also have regular conversation about issues that might arise on any platform, such as online strangers, people pretending to be someone they are not, divulging personal information, sending images of themselves and their bodies, how to deal with online bullying and conflict, peer pressure and their online reputation.

Where possible try to teach using stories and anecdotes rather than a statement of facts as stories are easier to remember and less confrontational.  When your child tells you about something that has happened online avoid the instinct to take your child’s device away. Instead talk to them about the incident and implement access control and other security measures to minimise the risk in the future. If you take your child’s device away, they are less likely to tell you about any future issues out of fear of losing their device.

One final piece of advice is to ensure that you get your information on cyber safety and helping your child integrate and embrace technology from reputable sources and don’t be afraid to be the bad guy when keeping your kids safe online. Finally, technology is here to stay, implement the steps above and go back to trying to navigate which type of milk to buy and a global pandemic.

Tim Manea

Tim Manea is committed to influencing the educational landscape. He has held several positions in his extensive career as an educator including Dean of Curriculum, Head of the English Faculty, Director of Innovation, Teaching and Learning as well as the position he now holds as Deputy Principal. Tim was also the recipient of the Peter Foss Scholarship at St Mark’s ACS, as well as being selected as a distinguished Educator in Residence with Rubicon International, based out of Portland, Oregon.