Parents are right to want to find out more about the online world that their children inhabit. For all the wonderful things that can be seen and learnt online, there are undoubtedly risks to spending time immersed in that world. Keeping children safe can be a challenge for even the most attentive parent.
E-Safety is a challenge for all parents, and some may feel overwhelmed by the sheer range of technology with which their children seem so at home Luckily there are web sites such as Internet Matters and the UK Safer Internet Centre which provide good advice in plain language.
So what should be the basic e-safety principles that we set ourselves as parents? Here are a few specific suggestions:
- Our children shouldn’t be facing risks of which we’re unaware
- Children should be participants in their own e-safety, not passengers
- Parents, children and schools can cooperate to improve e-safety in their communities
If we can agree that these principles are a good starting point, let’s expand on them a little and see if we can develop a simple strategy for e-safety that parents might consider.
It’s critical that parents shine a light into their children’s online lives. If we don’t know what content they’re accessing, the contacts they’re making, and how they conduct themselves in that world, then we’re not fulfilling our responsibilities to them. We need to be ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them when a risky situation arises.
If we understand our children’s online lives, then we can begin to effectively engage with them about their experiences. Through casual, friendly conversation we can add to the understanding we have and then provide our children with the adult guidance and advice they need. In all this we need to remember that e-safety isn’t something we do to our children, it’s something we do with them. They need to see that we’re supporting them, not interfering.
As parents we all need to accept that we can’t wrap our children in cotton wool forever. The day must come when they stand on their own two feet and fend for themselves. Our job is to help prepare them for that day. As far as e-safety goes, this preparation is something that schools can help parents with. We should all be speaking to our children’s schools about their e-safety teaching and the guidance and support they can provide for both children and parents, and we should also take it upon ourselves as parents to become as familiar with online safety as we are with road safety.
As parents, the temptation is to believe that our children know more about the internet than we do, and we may hesitate to get involved. We should remember though that we have real world experiences that we can pass on to help them understand the implications of what they do online.
If we as parents can begin to understand, engage and educate we will be helping to keep our children safer. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than we’ve had space to capture here, but the principles we’ve sketched out can perhaps be the basis for better, community-wide e-safety.