Parenting constantly presents challenges; parenting in an era where children have access to a wide range of digital devices is a new experience for many parents. We regularly receive feedback from parents who attend our seminars and internet safety crash courses, that they are genuinely overwhelmed by the amount of online games, apps and social networking sites their child is accessing. Children are digital natives whereas their parents are not. This can mean that parents can feel ‘on the back foot’, so to speak when it comes to knowing how best to keep their child safe online.
So what can parents do to best help their children to navigate through their digital journey? At Zeeko we promote the concept of Active Mediation when it comes to communicating with children about their online experiences. Active mediation involves working with your child and having open conversations to monitor their Internet usage and behaviour. The aim is to ultimately steer them towards responsible Internet usage without being overly forceful.
It can be tempting to place a blanket ban on Internet usage for your child as a means of protecting them (restrictive mediation), but the negative impact of not developing digital literacy skills and missing the positive Internet experiences must be considered. They are also much less likely to confide in you about their digital experiences, and many kids will simply go underground with their Internet usage, using it behind their parent’s backs in friend’s houses, for example. This actually opens them up to a much more serious risk, as they will be very reluctant to approach you should they run into difficulty.
Ultimately, it is up to you as a parent to decide when to reduce restrictive mediation and when to start actively mediating.
It is very important to have regular conversations to ensure you are monitoring your child’s relationship with the Internet. By speaking with children about their digital experiences, you are allowing them the opportunity to open up to you about their online world. Show your kids that you are interested in speaking their language and understanding their world. When they allow you into their online world, you can understand their feelings towards it and identify any potential issues or threats.
Three Key Steps to Active Mediation
Step 1: Familiarise yourself with the lingo associated with their preferred apps and games. Your child is far more likely to confide in you if they feel it is a topic that you have some knowledge of, and that they will not need to keep explaining the terminology to you. We have created the Zeeko Glossary to help you understand your kids’ online lingo.
Step 2: Adopt a ‘Tell No Blame’ policy. If your child is fearful of punishment, judgement or scolding for confiding in you something that they have done online, they are unlikely to be comfortable to do so. Even if they have done something wrong, you should explain to them why what they have done is wrong, and help them come up with a way to fix it. If it is a genuine mistake and the first time they have done such a thing, it may be best not to punish them, as many kids feel guilty and anxious enough about the wrongdoing.
Step 3: When your child comes to you with an online problem, take it offline immediately. Give a sense of acceptance by explaining to them that they have done the right thing by telling you. Next, ask them to talk you through the problem. Once you understand the problem take the virtual problem into the real world. If it is a case of cyberbullying the key is to speak to a teacher at school or the parent of the bully to resolve the problem in the real world. If it is a ‘virtual friend’, block the user from your child’s profile, revisit the child’s privacy settings, and delete and block any other ‘virtual friends’.
Active mediation is essentially about using the challenges you encounter with your children’s internet usage as learning opportunities. This will ensure your children will learn how to behave responsibly and protect themselves online.
The Zeeko Internet Safety Guide offers more detailed advice on keeping your child safe online. You can buy a copy of the book here.