Before I start, a little proviso: This blog is aimed at parents of primary school aged children. Parents of teenagers – sorry, that is a whole different kettle of digital fish…
So here we go…
Screens and social media. A hot topic at the moment.
How much time should you allow your child to spend on screens?
How do you get him off?
How do you keep your vulnerable child safe?
I have spent time reading various articles, following forums and listening to different opinions.
Jeremy Hunt, the current Health Secretary, has warned leading social media companies that the government will impose legislation if they fail to take action to protect children and young people online.
Whilst Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, declared “I’m known as the phone jailer in our household…I think the best method is physically locking it away.”
So the Government are taking the hard line. Yes social media companies need to do more. But I personally do not think locking away a phone is the answer.
Just as we want our children to be secure making the right choices in the real world, we want them also to be making the right choices in the cyber world too.
I listened to a great podcast. Simon Aston who is Northamptonshire County Council online safety advisor was interviewed by the lovely Lucy Parsons LISTEN HERE
The technology is not the problem. It is the behaviour caused by the technology.
So we need a new set of rules to help us safely guide our special children…..
7 Rules To Guide your child safely Through Social Media
1. How long is enough?
Give your child a voice. Have a discussion how long he should be on his tablet, phone or x-box. Do not be dictatorial as there will be just rows and tantrums. Decide and compromise together.
Over 4 hours a day is probably too much. There must be a variety for our children. Encourage other activities and pursuits.
When it’s time to come off, do not shout or nag. Go into his space and make a comment about the game or the picture he’s looking at. This way he is slowly coming back to reality and out of the virtual world. Gently remind him of the promise and it’s time to come off. There may need to be a visual reminder or a countdown timer if it helps. Have something equally motivating to do. If it’s to do homework it might be met with an argument. If it’s to come outside for a water fight then it’ll be quite tempting!
2. Age appropriate
Technically most social platforms children need to be minimum 13 years old. However in reality many of our primary aged children are already on Snap Chat, Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram. They know more than us and we must appreciate this. So the answer is to keep the dialogue up and keep discussions open and honest.
Make sure you know the user name and passwords for all apps and let him know that you know! It is not to snoop, it is to send the message that is all open, honest and transparent.
Agree with your child that he will only go online when an adult is nearby. So no disappearing into another room for hours on end. Again this must be part of an open discussion and agreement.
You as a parent are entitled to put restrictions onto the device to limit what your child sees. But again have this discussion with your child, as all that will happen is the banned apps will become forbidden fruit and will be more tempting. Our children are smarter than us and will find a way to get through the restrictions. Better you teach him about the dangers and keep the doors of communication open so he can tell you if he’s feeling threatened or vulnerable.
3.Be a good role model
As parents we have full control at what age we expose our children to technology.
We are living in an incredible digital, technological age. I grew up in a time when phones were plugged to the wall, TVs had 3 channels and I recorded the Top 20 on my tape deck hitting play/record simultaneously.
Yet now our children are growing up with Facetime, 3D cinema, streaming, air controls and have a computer in their pocket. It’s bonkers. But it’s reality.
But maybe parents should refrain from introducing tablets too soon. Babies and toddlers watching a cartoon in a restaurant. Not sure if I am comfortable with that yet. I agree for our special children this can be a life-saver. But in general are we teaching our children to be too passive and not make up their own fun. Boredom is good. It encourages creativity.
So my plea is to be a great role model. Put your phone away. Is it necessary to put your phone on the table when you’re having a meal. Watch a film together. Leave the phone in another room. If you’re out having fun, do you really need to record it? Could you just enjoy the moment and remember it? Are we all becoming too obsessed with Facebook and what everyone is doing? Maybe limit yourself. Enjoy your family. Put away your phone.
The more our children see phones dominating our day, the more they will battle with us to do the same.
4. Digital free zone
Your child will start to feel the social pressure of being on social media. There is a real fear of missing out; FOMO. This is an enormous burden. So help him by setting the boundaries.
Your child will be hugely grateful that you are taking control (although it may not appear that way!) Again this needs to be an open discussion. But decide when the social media gets turned off and where the phone literally goes.
Decide at what time the screens are turned off. It is recognised that we all need some digital-free time before sleep – the worry is that our brains will keep whirring and this will affect sleep. Tired children will not focus at school and we know that our children find concentrating difficult at the best of times!
So agree with your child, what time the device is going away and where it is going. I would suggest not to leave anything in his bedroom at night. far too tempting for little fingers!
5. Mistakes can be good
We need our children to be resilient in real life and this is true in the virtual world too. We must encourage our special children to think for themselves and make then learn from mistakes. It is really hard to stand by and watch our children fail, fall or be hurt. It is painful but it is actually tough love. We cannot go rushing every time our child falls. They will not learn to brush themselves off and start again.
We want our children to take risks as this is how they will learn.
But in the virtual world we must educate our children about the bullies, the predators and the ramifications of typing something that will be forever in the stratosphere.
Encourage open, honest discussions. Be frank and realistic about the risks.
6. Teach about safety and threats
Social media can be great for our children who rely on it for interaction and to practice communication. Our children can feel included, successful and part of a community.
But we must be mindful of who they are talking to and what information they are sharing.
Therefore it is imperative that we actually have discussions about safety from a very early age. Never disclose personal details to anyone online. Make up a name if necessary and never ever give address or school. And never ever ever arranged to meet someone. If these discussions happen early on, then you’d hope by the teenage risky years your child will have a sense of proportion instilled into him.
Encourage your child to post, comment, like or share something as if you are looking over their shoulder. That way they are being trained to question whether it is really the right thing to do.
We must be really mindful that our special children can get hugely anxious. And being part of a virtual, online world is no different.
Watch out for signs and take any anxiety seriously. Facebook ‘friends’ are confusing for our children who find relationships tricky. Are these real friends, shall I tell them my secrets? Quite often our children can experience the same heartache and rejection as if they were in the school playground. Again, make it a household where he feels safe to have this discussion with you.
So the online world full of technology is here to stay. You can safely guide your child through this wonderful world wide web. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle. We must accept that our children will be immersed in this new world.
But it isn’t the whole world. Keep providing other beautiful opportunities to get his little legs moving and his pulses racing.
Personally, it makes me sad when I see a group of adults or teenagers all on their phones rather that conversing with one another. I know it’s so tempting to check updates and see what is going on in Facebook and Instagram. Maybe we all need to take a step back from social media, look up at the sky and notice the beauty. And don’t snap a photo of it…..
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One thought on “7 Rules To Safely Guide Your Child Through Social Media”
This is a great summary of the issues, whether you have a ‘special’ child or not – and whatever their age. Thanks for linking back to my podcast too! Many people have said how useful that interview was.
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