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Five ways to help your child Thrive Online (Parenting Week October 2020)

Your child has just been given a small, fragile, sparkly, expensive device. With a few taps on the screen, they can exchange photographs, comments, videos, and messages with anyone, anywhere in the world.

From their point of view, their smartphone, and the social media platforms that they are now using, are a rite of passage, a new toy, a step towards independence and a status symbol.

They no doubt will already know how to send messages, take a selfie, and tag their friends. After all, they have watched family members and friends do this ever since they were born! But will they know when to shrug off a nasty comment? How to spot click bait? Will they understand how the algorithms of social media companies work? (does anyone?!). We need to teach our children that online, not everything is what it seems, that news is often fake, that celebrities use filters no matter how natural their selfies appear to be, and that social media influencers are (mostly) about advertising and making money.

Putting filters and settings in place and talking to your child about the dangers of the unpoliced online space is only the beginning.

Here are five other ways to help your child Thrive online:

  1. Talk to your child regularly about what they are doing on their phone, ask them about the apps they are using; who they are communicating with; what they are enjoying about their phone. Remind them that if they ever come across anything that they feel uncomfortable with, even if they feel it is their fault, they can talk to you about it.
  2. Have times and places in the family home that are screen free such as mealtimes. Make it the norm that there are no phones used at the dinner table, whether that be in the home or when eating out. Work hard at incorporating non-screen time activities into family life such as board game nights, sports, camping trips or other hobbies and interests.
  3. Decide on a place where their phone can charge overnight, younger adolescents in particular should not have their phones in their bedrooms at night-time. This can disrupt their sleep, which is critical to their physical and emotional development at this stage in life.
  4. Decide on boundaries or rules and keep to them, any boundaries set down should be appropriate to the age and stage of your child. How you parent a 16-year-old is very different to how you parent a 10-year-old. But do remember that your child, whether aged 10 or 16, are still growing, and have time until they reach adulthood. If your child feels that the boundaries or limits you have put in place are unfair or unreasonable (which they probably will!) remind them that these are temporary and will grow and stretch as they grow older and mature.
  5. Be a good example, this is perhaps the hardest part! There is of course a lot of truth in the saying that children copy what they see. Us grown up adults may need to reflect on our own behaviour towards our mobile phone use – I know I certainly do!

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