It's the final week of our e-safety series and this week we are focusing on how parents can help their children stay safe online. We are delighted to welcome back Ken Corish, Online Safety Manager with South West Grid for Learning and the UK Safer Internet Centre with a much-needed boost for parental confidence when it comes to e-safety.

A few years ago, the US psychologist Mark Prensky referred to the perceived gap between parents and their children when it came to technology. He used the phrases “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants”: “natives” have grown up with technology and have a whole language and culture based around it whilst “immigrants” struggle to learn the language, the rules… what is cool, what is safe, what is right and what is wrong.

In many ways, we can use that argument as an excuse for not becoming more involved than we do in our child’s online life

“Oh he/she knows much more than I do. What chance have I got?”

And yet there are massive holes in Prensky’s assumptions; young people may very well be comfortable with how technology works but they bring with them all of the naivety and inexperience that youth has. There a massive gaps in their understanding of privacy, ethical and responsible behaviour, the impact of their actions and risk-taking in general.

That’s the bit that we do best as parents; we advise; we support; we shape; we monitor our children’s behaviour and are there for them when things go wrong. We are good at that. And that takes dialogue.

But where do you start? How do you begin that conversation when your own experience of online life may be limited? Be brave … draw the line in the sand that sets your expectations and then be prepared to negotiate. That line will be different depending on the age and confidence of your child.

Here are some starting points, courtesy of Vodafone’s “Digital Parenting Magazine” It may seem a lot of information to take in but it’s just an extension of what you already do as a parent. Google some of the bits in this article that you need more information on or better still if your school is holding as parents online safety evening, get along there, get good quality advice and  discuss these issues with other parents

Step into that space and take back some control. It’s easier than you think and has positive benefits for you and your child.

Under 5’s

  • Start early and set some rules about how long they can use the TV and the iPad for
  • It’s important young children play with tech but keep them out of their reach so you can decide when they can have them
  • Think carefully about the content they watch, particularly if they are around when you or older siblings are watching TV or online
  • Make sure the rest of your family and friends know your rules too. Keep that consistency for your child

6-9 years

  • Manage your child’s access on a family computer by creating their own personal user account. It’s easier to track their activity
  • Have a conversation about the sorts of websites they should use and the ones that you would not be happy them accessing. Let them know that you will occasionally check what they are doing.
  • Discuss the sorts of information that are valuable to others but make your child vulnerable.
  • Set time limits for when and how long technology is used. Try to avoid any gaming or heavy media use one hour before bedtime
  • Talk about these issues with other parents and what their children are doing. Get some comparisons to inform your rule set
  • Gen-up on content ratings, which games or media are appropriate and which ones are not. Try Common Sense Media’s guides or PEGI

10-12 years

  • Set some boundaries when they get their first game console. Times, where it is sited. Get used to using the parental controls. They are easier to use than you think. Go back regularly to check they have not been bypassed or compromised.
  • Remind your child about the risks of phone theft and to not have them on display when out and about
  • Discuss about what they post online and what it says about them to others.
  • Discuss the kind of things they see online – this is the age when they might be looking for information about their changing bodies and exploring relationships, for example
  • Hold the line on letting your son or daughter sign up for services like Facebook and YouTube that have a minimum age limit of 13 – talk to other parents and their school to make sure everyone is on the same page
  • Keep checking and revisiting your rule set. It might shift and change but that should only happen through honest dialogue and compromise. Be prepared to take sanctions if the rules are broken. That could be removal of tech or disconnecting the router for the evening. Your house; your rules!

13+ years

  • Never too late to set some rules, particularly at vulnerable points of their schooling like exams or deadlines.
  • Talk to them about how they might be exploring issues related to their health, wellbeing and body image online – they might come across inaccurate or dangerous information on the Web at a vulnerable time
  • Discuss how their behaviour and activity impacts on others how and don’t shy away from difficult conversations about things like pornography, bullying and other risky behaviours, such as sexting
  • Give your son or daughter control of their own budget for things like apps and music but make sure you have agreed boundaries so that they manage their money responsibly
  • Especially before leaving school to go onto higher education or the workplace discuss the impact of plagiarism and downloading. Help them understand what is legal.
  • Reach a negotiated compromise over parental controls particularly content and time spent online. Don’t forget to include all connected devices including tablets, mobile phones and game consoles.
The author, Ken Corish, is Online Safety Manager with South West Grid for Learning and the UK Safer Internet Centre. He is a teacher of some 20 years and an Education Adviser for a large South West Authority. He is also the father of four girls. (Yes … we know!)

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