On the occasion of the Safer Internet Day, which is on 7 February this year, celebrated under the motto “Be the change: Unite for a better Internet”, we have prepared a short memorandum about the most important guidelines for parents to protect children in the online world.

The world of children today is considerably different from the world in which we grew up, which makes parenting and growing up more challenging. No wonder we often encounter themes related to using modern technologies when we talk to children, youth and their parents. Motivated by children’s experience and parents’ dilemmas, we opted to celebrate the Safer Internet Day this year by publishing this short reminder about the most important guidelines for parents in promoting the safety of children on the Internet.

Two sides of a coin

Modern technologies are changing the way we spend our free time, satisfy our need for connecting with others and their support and our curiosity regarding the world around us and ourselves. No doubt, information and communication technologies have made much more content available than it was before, thus enriching children’s growing up.

At the same time, by using modern technologies, children may encounter various threats which we need to know if we want to protect ourselves. These include exposure to inappropriate content, cyber-bullying by peers or adults, overuse of the Internet, etc.

Everyday work with children proves that adverse experience on the Internet is not something happening somewhere else – it can happen to any of us, regardless of where we live and our economic status, even to those who do not participate in social networks and do not spend too much time on the Internet. Consequences of such experience may be anything from feeling upset to more serious mental issues.

How can children be protected online?

Although many of us are worried about the influence of modern technologies on growing children, we often feel helpless and confused. How can we help our child when s/he seems to know more about modern technologies than we do? Do children need our guidance at all? If they do, how can we proceed?

Faced with these questions, parents choose various paths. In our work we see parents who believe that children actually do not need guidance because they deal with modern technologies much better than adults. We also see parents who are worried and want to protect their child, but do not know how. They rely on a series of methods, including: talking, setting rules, friendship with their child on social networks, and some go so far as to read messages sent to their children or completely ban the use of the Internet. Each of these methods has its advantages and disadvantages, some are more and some are less efficient, while some can seriously impact on our relationship with the child and result in something opposite from what we wanted.

The Study conducted by the Brave Phone and the Child and Youth Protection Centre of Zagreb showed that:

• only one out of five children has rules set for using social network Facebook

• most rules are about limiting the amount of time spent online and regulating the exact hours when the child is allowed to use the Internet, while rules related to safety are of secondary importance

Children and youth often know more about the technology than the adults – they are familiar with various social networks, they know how to open their profile and how to publish some content… However, this knowledge does not mean that children will know how to do it in a way which is safe for them and responsible towards others.

Children’s knowledge about modern technologies can be presented by comparing it to their experience in traffic. Knowledge about how to start a car and drive it in the desired direction does not imply that there is knowledge about traffic rules and driving culture which are crucial in traffic.

Children do not have experience of growing up without modern technologies – they use them from their early days. Therefore they lack critical stance towards the contents and methods of using modern technologies. Studies show that children are less aware of online threats than adults, and that they have less knowledge about how they can protect themselves than we assume.

Knowledge of children and their parents is complementary. Children know more about technology, parents know more about life.

Based on studies about the safety of children on the Internet and our experience with children, here is a short review of findings which help us to support and guide children in the changing world.

Important to know:

1. Skills to use the Internet do not imply there is knowledge about how to use it safely and responsibly.

2. The right moment to guide children is the moment of their first contact with the mobile phone, the PC, or a tablet.

3. Younger children are only starting to develop their capacity of online behaviour, so they need more direct supervision and guidance.

4. The supervision becomes less useful with the child’s growing age, and it may threaten your relationship with the child

5. Studies show that open relationship between the child and parents, talking, and rules are more important than direct supervision. Especially having in mind that today children access the Internet when parents are not with them.

6. Applications where children can get in contact with others (social networks, pages where children can create and share content, online games with other gamers, forums, chats, etc.) are more dangerous than those where the child spends time alone.

7. Children need rules about using the internet, their content being even more important. More about important rules in our text GROWING UP ON THE INTERNET: Restoring childhood safety

8. Rules and direct supervision are not your only options in guiding your child – you can spent time together online and explore the methods of using the Internet, how one can be protected, talk about the child’s experiences and attitudes, talk about his/her peers’ experiences or about stories from the media, ask the child to teach you something, etc.

9. Talking with the child and showing sincere interest for your child’s activities in the online world or asking him/her to show how something is done, sends the child a message that it is important for us what s/he thinks and how s/he is feeling.

10. Children learn most by observing us.

11. Children have the right to privacy. If you do not sit with them in the school yard and do not listen when they talk with other children, is it really necessary to read their messages on social networks?

12. Our openness and methods of guiding our child’s behaviour on the internet contribute to his/her readiness to ask for our help if necessary.

13. If the child experiences cyber-bullying, what s/he needs most is our support and help in solving the problem.

14. We cannot completely protect our child from adverse experiences on the Internet, but we can reduce the probability they will encounter such experiences.

And, finally, do not forget that raising children in the modern world brings many challenges, but you are not alone.

Written by: Tea Brezinšćak, psychologist

Other texts by the same author:

GROWING UP ON THE INTERNET: Restoring childhood safety

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