Parents must protect their children online

DO you know what your children post on Facebook? Do you know what they do on Snapchat and on Viber? What children do online is a mystery that a new book, Screen-Smart Parenting, demystifies for parents.

Parents must protect their children online

Children know more about technology than their parents do. But knowing how to use Whatsapp doesn’t protect them from bullying and manipulation.

Nor does posting pictures on Instagram mean they know what’s appropriate. How can parents protect their children?

“You can run, but you can’t hide, from the digital age,” says child psychiatrist and mother-of-three, Dr Gold.

“It’s here to stay, so I wanted to develop an approach where we embrace and control it, and are not controlled by it.” Her message to parents is to trust their instincts. Decisions about the internet should depend on the child’s personality and the family’s culture.

“Your guidelines should reflect your family’s values,” says Dr Gold. “These will change as your children grow and as they learn to use technology in a responsible and balanced way.”

Many parents opt for controls and filters on their computers and devices. Dr Gold says this approach is too restrictive.

“It may be necessary, if your children are truly misbehaving online, but I believe we should allow them to make small mistakes,” she says.

“They can’t build resilience or learn to navigate the world if we restrict their access. And you can’t teach them the lessons they need to learn when they encounter inappropriate websites, either.”

Most teenagers can easily get around parental controls. So, Dr Gold says parents should be open and clear with children about which sites are appropriate and why.

This doesn’t mean leaving them to deal with the online world alone. Dr Gold tells parents to follow their children online, keeping tabs on what they’re doing.

She explains how children of different ages use technology differently, and outlines the various social-media websites and what children use them for.

“With this information, you can follow your children online and make sure they are protected from negative behaviour,” she says.

Dr Gold has other suggestions, too. She isn’t a fan of setting time limits on children’s use of technology.

“Parents spend a lot of time fighting with children over 15 minutes of screen time,” she says. “The emphasis should be on how they use the devices, not on how much time they spend on them.”

If your child is using their device for schoolwork, or for healthy social connectedness, it makes little sense to restrict their usage. But if they are on inappropriate websites or connecting with strangers, then an hour a day may be too much.

“Digital technology is detrimental if your child is using it to avoid real-life interactions, or it’s interfering with sleep, school and family life,” says Dr Gold. “It’s detrimental if your child feels bad when they’re online.

“Then, it needs to be controlled. Your job, as a parent, is to help your children use technology to enhance their lives and not harm them.”

* Screen-Smart Parenting, by Dr Jodi Gold, is published by Guilford Press, €14.75.

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