It’s Time To Heed The Golden Rule Of CyberSafety
After years of bad press, the internet has truly earned its stripes over the last month. So many of us, confined to home by the pandemic, have relied on the net for work, education, shopping, entertainment and everything else. It has been especially important for connection with those we love.
Hooray for technology!
That said, now more than ever, it is important to reinforce internet safety messages, especially for our children.
First, let’s acknowledge some basic truths about kids online:
- Kids will occasionally do silly things, regardless of how smart they are.
- Not everyone who makes contact with your child can be trusted.
- Conflict among young people tends to escalate when they are online.
- Kids tend to be less inhibited online.
- Many kids seek validation and social acceptance online
Unfortunately, these are truths that do not go away simply because there is a pandemic. Which is why adults need to be in charge of internet use, not kids.
Rather than listing off a whole bunch of rules and regulations about kids and device use, I’m going to focus on one, golden rule…
Do not let your child use a connected device in their bedroom!
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 restrictions in Australia, youth online bullying has increased by 50% according to the eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman-Grant. The severity of this problem is even more worrying because our kids aren’t able to connect in real life with their good friends. Friends normally offer support and counter some of the impact of online bullying, instead, kids are suffering alone.
If your child is online in their bedroom, you can’t see the body language and reactions that would tell you something is wrong. It’s harder to tell that they are being bullied. Likewise, it is harder to tell if your child is being a bully. Bullies are far braver when there are no adults present. I know we all think, “Not my child!” But even good kids behave poorly sometimes and the internet responds so quickly that they don’t have time to change their mind.
At night, when kids have a device in their room, they don’t sleep as well. Obviously there are the disruptive dings of messages and notifications, but furthermore, research shows that even if the device is turned off and not connected to the internet, it interrupts a child’s sleep. The power of the subconscious!
We particularly need kids to sleep well at the moment, to counter the impact of the inevitable stress they are experiencing. And, pandemic or not, their brains are growing and developing. That requires a lot of energy. They need sleep.
Have a look at the news today. It’s awful. Images of mass graves and people sobbing with grief. It’s frightening… even for an adult! As most of the newsfeed and the social media cycles are focused on the virus, everything feels very negative.
When they are exposed to negatives online, kids need you there talking with them; answering questions and reframing the doom and gloom. That can’t happen if they are using their device in their rooms and away from you.
It is a sad reality that this pandemic has been wonderful for those who seek to groom and exploit children online. These predators are relying on parents getting frustrated with having children constantly underfoot and sending them to their rooms.
Ruth Dearing from Children and Technology says, “Child exploitation and image abuse is now affecting one in five Australians; it’s a massive problem and it’s one that ruins lives.”
It’s too horrible to think about, so parents often block this ugly reality out. Understandable, but not advisable.
It is interesting to see how friendship group dynamics shift as a result of social isolation policies. Our kids are connecting online more than ever. However, the problem with online friendships is that so much can be misconstrued and misunderstood. There is also a lack of accountability that comes from having a face-to-face conversation.
If online video chatting is happening within earshot of an adult, and not in the privacy of a child’s bedroom, it is more likely to remain friendly and enjoyable for all kids.
This pandemic will not last forever. Life will return to normal. In the meantime, we need to ensure kids are practising the good habits we’ve been teaching them all their lives. That foundational learning was never as important as it is today.