I have spoken to many parents during and after the main lockdown period who had little interest in technology other than the tools they need to use but found themselves having to adapt to virtual socialisation with family and friends through tools such as Skype, FaceTime, Zoom and many others. I have even spoken to parents who would never have considered using something like TikTok but found themselves having so much fun using it.
To children this is nothing new; as a child protection consultant I speak to thousands of children annually and when you get past all the apps and games they’re using, the majority are using these as a tool to socialise. The large majority are aware of the risks and issues because they receive a good education in school, but at the end of the day they’re still children; they don’t think in the same way as adults, they can easily spend all day if left to their own devices (forgive the pun) or find themselves in a risky situation which could lead to a harmful one.
Christmas should be about family time; 2020 and the pandemic is going to change how that looks for many. Whether that is loved ones who are working or because your movements are restricted, many will be turning to technology to talk to family and friends, so I would like to summarise some simple tips:
- Screen Time – many children would spend all day online if they could, having fun and socialising with their friends, but there has to be a balance. That balance will differ from family to family but if you find it’s getting out of hand and talking to them doesn’t work, consider restricting their screentime using the features on their devices, but always talk to them about why you’re doing it. You can find more help on this, including parental controls here
- More time online increases the chance of a risky situation becoming a harmful one. Whilst that may sound like scaremongering its simple logic. Think of it this way: if I was to walk a mile on the road there would be a risk; if I was to walk 500 miles that risk would increase significantly, online is no different. Regardless of the device, game or app they’re using, remember the three risk areas:
- Content – what can they see?
- Contact – who can they talk to, who is talking to them?
- Conduct – what is their behaviour?
Talk to your child about these risk areas, find out what they learn at school.
Speak to them about the different apps and games they use. Are there parental and privacy controls? Many games and most apps have socialisation features so it’s important we know what is available and use them where appropriate. The NSPCC Net Aware site can help you with this.
Whilst technology can help us to mitigate risk the two most important tools in our toolbox are:
- Talking to our children
- Curiosity – that gut feeling that something isn’t quite right. If you get that gut feeling, act on it!