Many parents panic when it comes to keeping their children safe online. I frequently hear parents complain "My children know so much more about technology than I do, so how can I possibly keep them safe?"
However most parents do know how to keep their children safe online, all they have to do is ask the same questions our parents asked us when we went out to play;
"Where are you going?"
"Who are going to meet?"
- "What will you be doing?"
- "When will you be coming home?"
Its not rocket science. Many parents are intimidated by the technology and fail to see that the questions we should be asking are the same questions asked by our grandparents and great grandparents of our fathers and mothers.
Our first question should be, 'which web sites or games are you going to be visiting?' Are there any sites that they found embarrassing or upsetting?
The second question is, "who are the people that you are going to meet?" Are they people from "real life," or are they friends you have met while gaming or social networking? Don't panic if it is the latter. If your child is going to play a game online as a character, or avatar, then if they talk to other characters it is not particularly hazardous. Just like playing another team in football you might not know their individual names or details, but that shouldn't stop you enjoying yourself. However you might want to remind them about sharing their details such as their name age and home or school address. but you then should move on to the next question which is...
"What will you be doing?" Try and get a handle on what kind of online activities your child enjoys. Talk to them about it. Just as many parents listen to blow by blow accounts of sports events, try to get them talking about what they've been up to. Suggest they show what they've been up to you in an interested, rather than a censorious way. Are they building the Empire State Building in Minecraft? Are they trying to get to the top of the league in FIFA or beating the fastest lap time in Forza? If you know a little about online culture your children will be more willing to engage with you.
Finally the questions that drives most parents up the wall, is the length of time children stay online. I don't like fishing. I find it boring and unstimulating and therefore cannot understand how grown men can spend hours sitting on a rock looking out to sea. In the same way many parents do not get why young people love being on line. For their parents it is a chore associated with work or technologically baffling. While I'm not recommending unrestricted access to the internet for children, do try to understand that it is completely immersive and enthralling for them. While you may find it a chore, like fishing or high street shopping do understand that other will love it.
Set boundaries early on. If your child wants a computer or games console, agree time limits with them before the device arrives. Negotiate with the child or young person and ask them "how long do they think you will need on the game or computer?" Imposing rules without discussion is far more likely to fail. Instead negotiate with them and ask what they think is reasonable and fair. You will be surprised. Rules like this are far more likely to be effective and enforceable in the long run.