Like many busy parents, I have come to rely on a tablet to keep my children occupied: on average twice a day for up to half an hour (I know, shock horror). It’s not that I have abandoned fresh air for free apps or that I have stopped reading bedtime stories.
But I no longer worry I’m a bad mother and I admit it. For me, the digital nanny is fine – what really matters is making sure that what they do and watch is fun and age appropriate.
Here are a few tips to keep you children safe online:
Share information, ideas and experiences
This is a very new parenting issue, it’s really difficult to resolve and I don’t know a parent who doesn’t find this hard. With everything being digital these days – homework, communication, games, videos… finding the right balance between recreational time spent offline and online is so challenging. Nothing in excess is generally a good thing – screen-time shouldn’t be any different.
Use a time management app for teens
Like TeenLimit. There is a free and a paid version. This lets you set device hours – when it can be used during a particular day, maximum daily and weekly time limits, with additional flexibility at the weekend. In my house, tablets wake up at 7:30am and go to sleep at 7pm. And can only be used 1 hour a day. It also lets you disable any apps or features that you don’t think are age appropriate.
“Lock” younger children in to one app
For younger children try Guided Access (available on any Apple phone or tablet). Or pinning on Android 5.0 Lollipop to add further safety to the experience. This lets you “lock” children in a single app, which they can’t exit until you input your PIN code. Then you don’t have to feel guilty about using a “nanny tablet” because you know they’re not going to access any inappropriate content. Focusing on a single video or game isn’t bad for improving attention spans.
Explore the internet together
Have fun, make using the internet a positive experience. Introduce your children to sites (entertainment apps, games, drawing apps, news sites etc.) that you think they will like and that you know are safe. Review sites / apps that they want to use and review them together. Try to make this a joint discovery so you build up an online experience for them that reflects their needs. Play online games together and try to beat each other’s score, have fun!
Keep the conversation open
For older children, when it comes to search encourage them to talk to you if they come across content that makes them uncomfortable, worried or distressed. Obvious I know, but it’s about keeping the dialogue open. This is particularly relevant with Year 5 upwards as homework demands mean that parental guidance and restrictions are increasingly difficult to enforce. Buy some essential core homework apps or subscriptions – dictionary, thesaurus etc. – that are advert free (which is where the problems start). This will also limit aimless and dangerous searching.
Educate them about the dangers
Explain what personal information is and how sharing online can be dangerous (photos, contact information, any identifiers). Children need to understand that when something leaves their inbox they no longer own it. I use examples in our daily life to explain personal information: for example a school uniform is personal information, it tells where you go to school.
There is a lot of free advice available. Try Search It Up, Azoomee’s free online safety section. This has 18 short animated cartoons that deal with all the major online safety issues including sharing personal information, screen-time – what’s too much, cyber bullying, how long things stay online – in a fun and engaging way.
Estelle Lloyd is co-founder of Azoomee, a digital entertainment service for primary school-aged kids that offers TV shows, games, audiobooks and an art studio all in one safe app, allowing users to watch, play and learn online. Thanks to Azoomee’s partnership with the NSPCC, parents can relax in the knowledge kids are secure from harmful content, ads and hidden in-app purchases.