How to control your child’s usage of the internet

IF you don’t want your children to spend the mid-term break on their smartphones or iPads, you’d better get organised.

Adolescents can spend up to 31 hours a week online, but this may not be healthy, especially given the recent controversy over the neknomination drinking game.

“Neknomination started with people in their 30s and quickly spread down to a younger age — people in their 20s and younger were trying to outdo each other,” says digital marketing and social media expert, Aoife Rigney.

“Then, I noticed teenagers were starting to do it. Then, I was told that children in primary school were talking about doing non-alcoholic versions of it, for example a pint of vodka with washing-up liquid in it. The fact that they were even aware of it means that primary-school children were watching these things and were exposed to it.”

This week, after the Net Children Go Mobile report indicated that smartphones are the most commonly used devices by young people going online, the ISPCC urged parents to be vigilant.

“The ease and regularity with which young people can go online means that parents must be vigilant, clued-in and communicate regularly with their young people about safety online, who they are talking to, what sites they are visiting, and ensure privacy settings on social networks are being used.” warns Caroline O’Sullivan, of the ISPCC.

Rigney, 23, who is also a scout leader with the Lough troop in Cork, says because many schools use iPads as teaching aids, some parents believe it’s acceptable for children to have them at home — but, what they often don’t realise is that the schools put secure controls on the devices.

“They may not know their kids are on social media, or they may not realise the implications of children having free access to the internet,” she says.

“They may not know that there are tools which can set time limits, filter website content, block certain games and apps and monitor social media activity.”

Rigney suggests parents investigate online applications, such as Gogostat Parental Guidance, which alerts them to any inappropriate activity on a child’s Facebook profile, for example the sharing of personal information or the use of bad language.

“For parents, it’s about awareness, education and communication,” she says.

Parents can lack understanding about these devices and can lack confidence about learning to use them.

Net-Nanny is used by schools, she says, while Qustodia is another useful options.

“It’s is about taking responsibility if you are going to buy an internet-enabled device for your child or young teenager,” Rigney says. “It’s important to be aware of the need for filters, so when you are buying these devices ask the retailers about available filters.”

With children and younger teenagers it’s important for parents to take a positive approach to social media and the internet — allow access, but put in place reasonable time constraints, she says.

“Explain to children why it’s not good to be using a device or a screen all the time,” she says, but be sure to have other activities as an alternative.

Keep children sufficiently happy and occupied and they won’t even think about the internet, she says.

“In scouts, we work with teenagers from aged 11 to people their early 20s,” she says, adding that the use of internet-enabled devices is discouraged during scouting.

“We find that when they’re walking up mountains with friends, learning how to build things or developing new skills like wood-carving, first-aid training, fire-safety and outdoor cooking, they’re far too busy to be sitting looking at their [phones ] — we go away for a weekend every year, and we encourage them to leave their phones at home and we notice they never look for them, because they are so busy.”

Another way to limit use of the internet is to simply turn off the house broadband. You can just plug it out.

But how to approach the negotiations that are an inevitable part of dealing with your child’s internet use, once the school term is over?

It depends on the age group, says child and adolescent psychologist, Dr Patrick Ryan.

With children and young teens up about the age of 14, he says, it’s important to have one-on-one conversations about the sensible use of the internet, then monitor what they’re doing and how long they’re spending on it.

Explain that there are lots of other things in their lives, he says, adding that if you’re putting a time-limit on internet use, it’s a good idea to suggest or even organise alternative pursuits, such as a family outing.

With older teenagers, however, Ryan says it’s a waste of time and energy trying to control their access to social media and how they use it.

“It’s so available to all of us now, that trying to put in blocks and obstacles doesn’t work.

“You need to influence their beliefs about it — and despite what you think, they do listen to you,” he says.

“Teenagers listen all the time, but whether they let you believe they listen is a different issue.

“You cannot control this as if it’s a bad behaviour,” he says. “Instead, you must try to bring them to the realisation that a reasonable amount of time can be spent on social media during a holiday from school — but also that there are many other things in their lives.”

Allow them to work out that if they spend all their time on social media they’ll lose out on other valuable lifestyle pursuits.

“Keep pointing out the potential waste of time involved, and the loss of other opportunities.

“If you do that consistently, there’ll come a point when they think it themselves.

“All you can do is influence their decision and if enough of that information sticks, they will make a good decision.”

Mid-term alternative pursuits

¦ Art classes ¦ Encourage your child to join a scout or girl guides group

¦ Wrap up and take kids for a walk on the beach

¦ Take a trip to the local swimming pool

¦ Hold a baking class and show them how to make their favourite cookies or pizza

¦ Suggest they invite friends over


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