In continuation of our series on the NCC document titled: ‘Keeping children safe online: Advice to parents and caregivers,’ the Commission advises that if your child is using online platforms or programs for schoolwork, ensure a healthy balance between non-school related online activities and offline time.
Here are some helpful tips:
During non-school hours at home, establish time limits around when and for how long your child can be online; Use the available technologies — parental controls and tools to monitor online time allow you to measure and set time limits on device use or internet access. Be honest and open about why you want to use these technologies.
Turn off notifications for social media apps to help minimize distractions; Depending on your child’s age, you can establish a family tech agreement that balances time spent in front of screens with offline activities. You can find templates by searching online.
Include ‘offline’ activities in your routine at home — this can include family exercise, reading time or board games; Model good behaviour in your use of media and digital devices Generally, children will imitate what they see in the influencers around them. Hence, parents and carers must take active steps to
Ensure that they set the ideal example of online behaviour that children can follow. We suggest some tips below:
-Set a time to your own media usage
-Where you use media or devices heavily due to work, it is important to explain this to children so they understand
-Avoid forwarding content to your children that you have not verified
-Share lessons with children about other adults who have lost out of opportunities due to their online activities
Use parental controls and safe search options:
Parental controls are software tools that allow you to monitor and limit what your child sees and does online. They can be used to filter harmful content, such as ‘adult’ or sexual material, and to monitor, time-limit or block your child’s use of connected devices and functions such as cameras.
While parental controls can be effective tools to help control and limit what your child does online, they are not foolproof. There is no substitute for active parental engagement and oversight of a child’s online activities. Helping your child build good online safety habits is just as important.
How do I use parental controls?
Check if your wi-fi router has software that allows you to set up parental controls across your whole family wi-fi network. Search online for reputable child-friendly wi-fi products using terms like ‘child-friendly routers’, ‘child-friendly wi-fi’, ‘family-friendly routers’ and ‘child safe wifi’.
Check out the parental controls available on most tablets, smartphones, computers, TVs and gaming consoles. Look at: Windows, Mac OS, Apple (from iOS12), Android using Google Play or Google Family Link.
Use the PIN code locking feature on smart TVs or disconnecting the TV from the internet if you are not using the ‘smart’ features.
Use parental controls to limit your child’s cellular/mobile data usage.
Use parental control measures on streaming services and gaming consoles to help manage gaming activity. Search for the streaming service or console name and ‘parental controls’ to see your options.
Download or purchase family safety controls or filters. To find a filter that is right for you, search online using terms like ‘internet filters’ or ‘family filters’ and check out its reviews.
Set up child-friendly search engines or select safe search settings on digital devices to help prevent your child from stumbling across inappropriate sites and content.
Safe browsing tips
-Encourage younger children to always ask an adult before clicking on an ‘Accept’, ‘Allow’ or ‘OK’ button on a website as sites may display other messages or disclaimers that require a response.
-Set up bookmarks in your child’s browser for sites you would like them to use.
-Learn how to adapt filtering tool settings to reflect each user’s age and skills if multiple members of your family share a device or program.
-Be aware that many search engines also contain advertising and know there is always a risk that inappropriate material could still slip through.
What are the risks children face online?
Children face several risks on the internet. These risks can be grouped into four broad categories.
Content Risk: Consists of harmful information and material that children encounter online. For example, pornography, violence, fake news (misinformation).
Contact Risk: Meeting online friends offline can lead to negative consequences. Online grooming can also occur. This is a situation where a person befriends a young person to gain their confidence and then sexually abuses them. There are other physical and psychological risks that could lie in a young person building friendships with strangers online.
Conduct Risk: It includes game addiction, mobile phone overuse impaired sight, loss of confidence and reputational harm due to unguided comments.
Commercialization Risk: This is the risk children face from being exposed to making willing and unwilling commercial decisions online – including giving out personal data, gambling and shopping addiction.
Child online safety talking points between parent/carer and a child
It is advisable that these questions are asked as part of a conversation (it is advisable not to adopt a confrontational approach) or in a game form, to avoid the child being evasive or untruthful.
On average, how many hours do you spend online daily? Take note that the time a child spends online may include time spent on academic or other learning activity.
What activity, will you say you spend the most time on, when online?
Whatever activity they mention, check to see that they are not engaging excessively. It is important that a healthy balance is created between online activities and offline activities. Online addiction for whatever reason is unhealthy for the child.
Who do you turn to for advice on issues arising online? Do not take it personally if your child says s/he speaks to someone else. Research has shown that most children will rather speak to their peers or other online friends. This is because they either feel uncomfortable having such conversations with their parents or they believe they know more than their parents on online issues.
Have you been asked for a nude picture of yourself online? If yes, did you send the picture when asked? Sending nudes or sexting is common amongst young children. Those children who end up sending their pics do so because they trust the person on the other end of the screen.
Children need to be made to understand that images, when shared, may never leave the internet and can be reshared a million times and more. It may follow the child to adulthood and such issues have been known to lead to deaths.
Do you have friends/followers online who are strangers? If yes, do not cut the child’s internet/smartphone usage because of this alone. Having strangers as friends could serve as an opportunity for children to discover and express themselves. However, it provides the platform for online grooming of children which portends great danger for children.
Social Network Sites (SNS) have also increased the opportunities for such interactions. The more children are exposed to SNS, the greater the potential for online-offline contacts and negative emotional exposure.
Parents must handle this line of conversation carefully in order not to push the child right into the arms of evil strangers.
Have you ever been bullied online? Find out how they felt and together discuss solutions. Do not make them feel punished twice by blaming them for being bullied. Research shows that 20.8% of children within the 12-16 years bracket have either bullied or been bullied online. Bullying is becoming a common phenomenon online.
Four tips to help
Protect your children online; Build trust by keeping communication open and supportive: Your child knows they can come to you if something goes wrong or does not feel right online; Watch TV, play games and enjoy digital platforms with your children.
Discuss online opportunities, entertainment, learning and risks; be the parent, offline and online, by setting limits, controls and standards: Set time limits for all activities, including online activities. Balance screen time with other activities; Set location for device use. Where possible, use desktops not mobile devices. Keep devices away from private locations like bedrooms.
Set up parental controls and filters for harmful content; Have clear agreements on online activities; be alert to signs of distress or problems.
Make sure your child/children understand(s) the ‘SMART RULES’:
Safe– Do not give out personal information when chatting or uploading online. Personal information includes your email address, phone number and passwords.
Meeting– Meeting someone you have only been chatting with online can be unsafe.
Accepting– Accepting emails, IM messages, or opening files, pictures or text messages from people you don’t know or trust can lead to problems; they may contain viruses or horrible messages.
Reliable– Someone online might lie about who they are and the information on the internet may not be true. Always check information with other websites, books or someone who is knowledgeable. If you like chatting online it’s best to only chat with real-world friends and family.
Tell– Tell your parent or trusted adult if someone or something makes you feel uncomfortable or worried, or if you or someone you know is being bullied online.
Lead by example:
Use devices responsibly; Show respect in your online platform language and content; Help your child to develop digital intelligence and social and emotional skills such as respect, empathy, critical thinking and resilience. Help your child practice and become a responsible online citizen.