Raising kids in the tech age: how to keep them safe online


Parents in today's tech age understand the life-changing importance of decisions made about kids and technology, but often feel uncertain and overwhelmed about where to start.

Our conversations on the topic are based more on guesswork than handed-down generational experience. We're the first generation feeling our way through raising kids in a digital world, setting new benchmarks as we go, and not knowing what this generation of children will be like when they're adults.

There are no proven answers to the questions we're asking. That's what makes parenting so difficult. Well, that and the fact that the questions are changing at an alarming rate! Here are our 10 top tips to keep in mind as your kids start going and living online:

1. Recognise the importance of technology

Technology has massive benefits and our kids need tech skills both now and in the future. Parenting is not about shielding our children from the tools of the world but equipping them to use those tools properly. This means we need to be active and intentional in teaching them how to use technology effectively, safely and to its fullest potential.

2. Encourage and model moderation and balance

While we know very little about the future of technology, there's ample research on the effects of too much screen time on kids - from attention problems and school difficulties to sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.

Parents have a big job managing the "black hole" lure of the digital world for their kids, monitoring their media diet for both duration and content, and helping them understand the difference between educational and entertaining screen time when making choices about how to spend time online.

Changing device, app and game settings (for example, switching off autoplay, setting screen-time reminders and removing notifications) will go a long way to helping your child control their devices rather than being controlled by them.

Be In Touch - a South African organisation focused on family digital wellness - recommends starting as early as possible with conscious screen-time habits. These include agreeing and monitoring your child's online time, having screen switch-off times and even screen-free days to encourage more active and less tech-driven activities. These measures can have a hugely positive impact on your family's nutrition, sleep, mental health and balance.

Remember that if our own "wheel of life" is unbalanced by too much tech, our kids will most certainly follow suit!

3. Apply "real" age restrictions on technology

Age-related regulations in the tech world can be misleading. Unlike for movies and TV, there is no agency tasked with rating apps, websites or pop-up ads. The result is that app and game developers set their own age restrictions on app stores - and, in the interests of profit, they're often lower than they should be.

Be In Touch recommends that parents know the real age rating of games, apps, and social media sites before they're downloaded or used by children, and agree the rules and boundaries of downloading and using apps and games.

4. Keep face-to-face conversation alive

Technology is changing the way we communicate, and whether it's for the better or not remains to be seen. Older generations may argue technology is destroying conversation, younger generations may argue technology is enhancing it.

Either way, our children live in a world where many people respect and expect verbal conversation. To be successful, they must be able to communicate both online and in-person. The 8 fundamental requirements for good and effective communication are not easily met when conversation happens online only, rather than face to face!

5. Agree family digital habits

A digital family alliance is a great way to agree device rules and boundaries. Some of the habits to think about including are:

  • Using devices in open, common areas of the home
  • Keeping devices out of bedrooms at night
  • Setting device no-go times and areas
  • Agreeing device use limits and consequences.

Leading by example and modelling the kind of positive online behaviour you'd like your children to follow is critical to the success of your digital family alliance!

6. Before you post ... think

Every picture and personal detail that's posted and shared on social media and the internet contributes to your digital footprint - a lasting track record of good and bad decisions made online that can impact you in often unexpected ways.

THINK before you post! is key to teaching kids the lifelong practice of leaving a good footprint online. Before you post, ask these five questions:

  • Is this true?
  • Is it helpful?
  • Is it inspiring?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it kind?
7. Promote self-worth

The praise of others is a fickle thing to measure our worth by. It can negatively affect the decisions we make and the life we choose to live, yet never fully satisfies our hearts or souls. It's important for our kids to understand that their self-worth cannot be calculated from likes, shares and retweets.

We also shouldn't compare ourselves to the online facade of happiness, success and "having it all together". We post our most glorious moments online but hide the most painful. This is just as important for us as adults to remember!

8. Encourage fact checking

We all know it, but it needs repeating, often: you can't believe everything you see on the internet!

Fake news, clickbait and hoaxes abound in the digital world. Kids are often more savvy than their parents at spotting what looks dodgy, which can make for great family dinner conversation!

9. Oversee sharing and chatting

Talk to your kids about the dangers and possible consequences of sharing personal information, photos and videos online in public forums or with people they don't know. This includes anything that can identify them personally - their name, phone number, home address, email, or name of their school.

Keeping their location private when online is a must-do habit for kids to learn. Most apps, networks and devices have default geotagging features which make your whereabouts public and can lead someone directly to you. These features should be turned off!

Teach children about body safety and boundaries, including the importance of saying "no" to inappropriate requests in both the physical and virtual world. Teach kids to be cyberwise from an early age - explain to them that some people aren't who they say they are online. Make sure you're part of your child's social media circles and monitor their posts. Your children may resist, but make it a condition for access!

10. Monitor and talk, talk, talk

Innocent searches online can lead to not-so-innocent results. Knowing how to use the parental controls offered by web browsers, service providers and devices is a must.

Parental controls are invaluable in helping parents to protect, monitor and guide their kids online. They can help you filter inappropriate content, manage screen time and device limits, and monitor social media, apps and games. Some also offer alerts and conversation tips to facilitate valuable conversations between parents and kids.

Most of all, keep checking in and checking up on your kids. Be alert to changes in their use of electronic devices, attempts to conceal online activity, withdrawn behaviour, angry outbursts, anxiety and depression.

Make sure that they are empowered to report inappropriate or offensive posts and block people. Encourage them to tell a parent, guardian or another trusted adult if anyone sends them inappropriate messages and pictures (of both the cyberbullying and sexual variety).
Our final tip: remember that parenting requires a healthy balance of humour and fierce resolve. You've GOT THIS!

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