By Emma Elshaw
With the emergence of COVID-19, the world has been spending more and more time online. We have seen over the last two weeks the risk predators pose to kids and youth online, as well as the importance of having intentional conversations with your kids about online safety. In a world where kids enjoy spending time online, it’s important to make sure that we, as parents, continue to be involved in our kids’ lives, whether that is online or offline.
Keep Electronics Visible
There are some practical things that parents can do to help keep their kids stay safe online. We cannot control the predators, but we can check what our kids are doing online. To that end, one strategy to help keep your kids stay Safe@Home could be to keep electronics in open, common areas of the home. Instead of retreating to the basement or their bedroom to spend time online, have the family computer set up in the living room instead, and have the computer set up in such a way that the screen faces outward, giving you more opportunity for quick glances at what they’re doing while on the computer. Another strategy could be enforcing a rule – for you and your kids – that no electronics are permitted in the bedroom and bathroom. Furthermore, if your child enjoys playing online games, you could take part in what they’re doing, with age-appropriate guidelines, of course. If your child enjoys video games, pick up a console and play with them. Become interested in the things that they are interested in – you might just even make it into the “cool” books.
Another important thing you can do to help keep your kids safe while online is to do age-appropriate, spontaneous checks on their devices and social media platforms – with them present, of course. Trust is important to maintain here, so it is extremely important that these checks are done in their presence. As you prepare to do these checks, be sure to do your research; read up on the different social media platforms, understand what they’re about and how to check their privacy settings. Make sure you know all the “hidden spots” of their apps and devices where they may keep things that they don’t want you to see. Become tech savvy – if not for yourself, then for your kids. There are many apps out there that have parental monitoring tools or controls to help you keep your kids safe while online by helping you, as the parent, to monitor your child’s account.
Spend Time Offline
Apart from these efforts to keep your kids safe online, you can also encourage your kid or teen to spend time offline. Instill “tech free” times in your home. Put it on a schedule, and make sure everyone in the home follows it – not just your kids. Be a good role model and reach for something other than your phone when you’re bored. One good example is meal times; make sure no one brings their phone or device to the table. Make mealtime family time – a time to catch up on your day. This might mean a little extra effort on your part as the parent, especially as everyone is spending more time at home and seeing each other all day (“I mean, you know how my day went, you saw me all day”). Have a few conversation starters that you can go to other than “how was your day?”. Ask them what they are thankful for today, ask them about something they found particularly difficult that day, and ask them about what they’re most looking forward to the next day. If you need to, think of questions ahead of time, but make sure that this time without their devices is a positive one – for everyone.
Apart from meal time, you could also have a few hours each day, whether it be all at once or in separate chunks, to engage in offline activities with your kids. This is a good way to get to know your kids more and find out about what they like to do, what they’re passionate about, and maybe even discover some hidden talents. It might be that not everything will be a success, but that’s part of the discovery process. Take your kids on a hike or bike ride – you can do this as a family or one-on-one. If you’re not the active type, take your kid or teen to an arcade or shopping mall (when places open up again after the pandemic is over), work on a puzzle together, play a board game, or do crafts or scrapbook with them. These special times you create can help your kid or teen see the value and importance of the offline world. They could learn to develop new skills or hone the ones they already have.
The time is ripe to set time aside to invest in your kids. Teach them healthy boundaries in terms of time spent online by leading by example: set aside devices and spend time as a family. Be a good role model for your kids and reach for something other than your phone from time to time. Pursue interests together – whether it be inside or outside, online or offline. Help your kid or teen to stay Safe@Home by continually talking with them, spending time with them, and teaching them, directly and indirectly, about online safety.
To learn more about online safety, please visit https://www.cybertip.ca/app/en/internet_safety
To report sexual exploitation, please visit https://www.cybertip.ca/app/en/report
For more information on parental monitoring tools, please visit https://www.bark.us/
For ideas on spending time with your kids offline, please visit https://smartsocial.com/offline-activities-reduce-screentime/