For all the negative press the online world receives it is very important that kids are digitally literate and feel empowered to make informed choices to help them stay safe when they are online. One of the key principals of our work at Zeeko is to help kids to become good digital citizens, in other words to develop the skills to make smart choices when they are online and to know how to be savvy when they are operating in the digital world. These skills can also be known as digital literacy skills. When we visit schools throughout the country to deliver our workshops, we encourage the children and teenagers we meet to reflect on how they currently use the internet to interact with others. We also encourage them to develop the critical skills needed to make smart choices when they are online. For example, many children are usually not aware that when they sign up to use an app that they are signing up to have a lot of their information more widely shared. So, how can the development of digital skills help your child stay safe online?

Being more aware of the sheer scale of the internet and the fact that information that you share cannot be easily deleted or removed will hopefully help children of all ages, to be more conscious of what they share when they are online. This awareness will also lead to a heightened awareness of not only their own behaviour but the behaviour of others online. It can happen that kids encounter someone or something that upsets them when online. The Stop, Block, Tell Rule is a great initial immediate step to enable early parental intervention when they have encountered something that bothers them on the internet.

A great way of helping your child to keep a check on their own behaviour when they are interacting with others, via something like a messaging app, is to talk to them about their digital footprint. It’s increasingly the case that employers for example, are taking a look at the social media accounts of candidates and in the U.S. third level institutions are doing the same. Social media profiles are now essentially seen as an extension of applications and CVs. It’s totally understandable that children don’t see the long-term implications of their behaviour online, however it is important that a conversation about digital footprint starts as early as possible. There is another element to digital footprint and that is the fact that many people use social media to create an impression that they have a very different life than is the actual reality. This again can be a difficult concept for children to grasp. Remind your child that the images they see shared by friends online are only a snapshot of one moment in time and is usually not reflective of what is the reality of the situation.

Finally, encouraging your child to have a balance in the time they spend online and activities they do offline. This time away from screens and the online world will help them develop perspective. There is no substitution for face to face contact!

Helping your child to develop the skills to stay safe online is providing them with an invaluable resource.