Working together to get the best out of the net

In this article, Professor Alan Ralph of Triple P discusses the importance of a parent’s role in shaping their children’s journey online and gives tips on what they can do to help them make smart choice.

We hear so much about online risks that we can lose sight of the opportunities. But in fact, by working together to manage risks and find new ways to be creative, parents and kids can bond over online activities rather than fighting over them.

Earlier this year, an Australian teenager made worldwide headlines when she quit Instagram and ditched her half-a-million-plus followers, admitting to posting “contrived perfection made to get attention”. Maybe this is just the start of a new sophisticated approach by today’s teenagers – especially as she soon after launched her own website!

Making the most of the net

Of course we must be aware of the dangers of cyber bullies, paedophiles, scammers and identity thieves. But just as previous generations had to deal with telephones and motor cars, we need to adapt to this new technology. The internet and online communication are here to stay, so how can we and our kids make it work to our advantage and minimise potential problems?

Many parents feel overwhelmed and inclined to put their heads in the sand. So much for keeping the computer in the lounge-room so you can see what’s going on; children can now interact with almost anyone, anywhere, at any time. Are we powerless to monitor and manage this?

Is this all really new?

As with all other aspects of life, from handling money to having sex to driving a car, parents should stop and think about giving teenagers tools to manage different circumstances and be successful in the long term.

In a digital world, this means things like understanding how to control privacy settings, being mindful of what you  share online and who with, and weighing up potential costs…and opportunities! If using the power of the internet and social media means that your teenagers – or you – can crowdfund a film project, work with writers and artists in other countries, connect with a career mentor or create a website, that’s something to be excited about.

Cyberspace adventures can involve everyone

When parents and children work together to manage risks and benefit from opportunities, great things can happen. Parents can  show their children how to plan for the long term and not just focus on the “now”. After all, the teenage brain is not fully mature until the early- to mid-20s. Teenagers can offer their parents ways to engage with technology and be enthusiastic and optimistic about possibilities.

On the downside, parents tend to be over-protective and may find it easier to say “no” than realistically assess the risks. For their part, teenagers may naïvely believe nothing bad can happen to them  and  not take adequate precautions. Benefits of open and honest conversations

Having a chat about what they do online

This is where regular and open communication are so important. Conversations relating to what you or your kids have seen online lately, whether it’s a news story of the latest viral video, can be a good place to start. Depending on your own knowledge of technology, you could ask your teenager for help in researching something you want to buy or using a new app or game, or you could pass on some tips and ideas to them.

Such conversations should  be frequent, brief and relaxed. The idea is to create an atmosphere where parents and teenagers are learning together – to identify and try out new sites, social media platforms, creative tools or fun apps in a spirit of mutual curiosity and learning.

Depending on their age and degree of maturity, parents need to be clear on the appropriate level of access, but restrictions can  be negotiated as temporary measures and reviewed as needed.

Planning ahead together to avoid potential issues is very important, but so is looking forward to find exciting new possibilities. Let’s remember the positives!

Additional information

If you’d like to learn more about how you can help your child discover the internet safety, here are some great resources:

e-safety issues – tips for parents 

e-safety advice by age 

Social networking advice

Setting controls on devices

Image attribution: Ed Ivanushkin under Creative Commons License

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