Not so long ago the main way people communicated was face to face or possibly by text. Now it’s a very different story. Messaging apps are becoming an increasingly popular way of communicating particularly among preteens and teenagers. The speed and immediacy of this type of communication can of course have benefits but it is important that children interacting in this way are aware of keeping themselves safe.
It can be a significant challenge to keep on top of all the apps that are out there, particularly when it comes to messaging apps. However, regardless of the brand name of the app there are some things that should be borne in mind when it comes to staying safe. For preteen aged children it is important to monitor who your child is interacting with via a messaging app. It can be the case that they are only using the app to message a group of their friends, i.e. people known to both you and them. Even if this is the case, it is important to remember to reiterate the importance of letting you know about any inappropriate content they come across. Of course, where friends are concerned, children can be particularly reluctant to talk openly about what is being shared online. One of the approaches we advocate in our work at Zeeko is the concept of active mediation. Active mediation is based on open communication and letting your child know that it is ok to share what they are experiencing online, without the fear of being punished. Active mediation can have very positive outcomes as your child will feel they can openly discuss with you their online experiences.
Encourage your child to be careful and conscious of what they share even if it is only shared in a group of people that they know. Remind them that what they share online cannot be easily removed or deleted and that no security setting is 100% reliable when it comes to sharing content online. Also, it is always a good idea to take an opportunity to remind your child of the importance of being conscious of the feelings of others in a group setting and that they should exercise the same level of care as they do when they are communicating offline.
For older children, in particular teenagers, encourage them to develop perspective on the use of messaging apps. It is very easy to become complacent when regularly using messaging apps to communicate. It can happen that teens become so used to messaging in this way that they let their guard down. They too need to be reminded that the content they share is not always fully secure. Remind them also of the importance of spending time off screens. This can be particularly challenging when it comes to teenagers but having a balance in the use of screens will help in developing perspective in the use of technology like messaging apps to communicate.
In one sense it is great that there are now so many ways to keep in touch with each other, however staying safe needs to remain a priority.