We are well aware that our students are spending more time than ever online and this brings challenges for them – to keep safe, to maintain their own discipline how they behave online, and to understand that their approach with others online is just as important as when dealing with people face-to-face.

We deal with many online issues throughout a school year. Often it is evident that the child is making poor choices and the parents have little idea what their child is doing and saying online. It is easy for parents to recognise the importance of making checks on where a child is when they go out, but it is easy to presume everything is fine when they are at home; even though their phone, tablet, etc, can take them anywhere with anyone.

Nowadays a big part of good parenting is being savvy with your child’s online behaviour – both  taking responsibility for them and teaching them to take responsibility for themselves. Online safety is a big topic at school, we take it very seriously, but the dialogue cannot come from school alone, and it is certain that the level of online monitoring at school is likely to be of far more in-depth than it is at home.

BBC Bitesize have released an article entitled ‘How to manage your child’s online world without clashing’ – the full article can be viewed at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/z9k4bqt

This article gives the following pointers to parents to address with their child:

Show them how to use the internet in a positive way

Talk to your child about your own experience of the online world. Show them sites and apps that you like, and explain why you like them. You can also talk about your own less positive experiences online. If you feel pressured by the ‘perfect’ photos people share on social media, then being open with your child about this can be a good thing. It might help them understand that the ‘perfect’ pictures people share on social media don’t always show reality. Encourage them to talk to you if they’re struggling with this.

Lead by example

Children generally look to their parents as role models, so your own use of screens may influence what they consider ‘normal’. For example, if you check your phone constantly at mealtimes or spend a lot of time online yourself, then it’s likely your child might do the same.

Ask your child about the apps and websites they use

It can be easy to feel that you don’t understand the latest technology, apps or social media that your child is using. But don’t use this as an excuse not to get involved.

Ask your child to teach you and show you their favourite apps, games or websites. Showing an interest in their world can encourage conversation around any issues. This joint exploration of their online favourites will help you understand how they work, so that you can talk about the positives and whether you have any concerns. A quick search online can also tell you a lot.

Set boundaries – but be realistic

The boundaries you set for internet use will depend on your child’s age. It’s like teaching your child to cross the road: you’ll make sure they hold your hand when they’re very young, but as they grow older you want them to assess the risks and stay safe more independently.

Whatever their age, it’s a good idea to sit down together with your child to agree some rules about how much time they spend online. It might feel quite difficult to set boundaries during the daytime, especially at the moment, but you could agree that meal times are screen free, and they shouldn’t go online just before bed or use any devices at night, because this can affect their sleep. You can often set timers on devices to limit internet use – but try to help your child manage this for themselves as well.

You can also set up parental controls to stop your child from accessing harmful content online, but your child may well learn how to get around these – and that’s why it’s important to make sure your child is able to make good decisions for themselves.

Spend time doing a positive activity together

It’s important to balance your child’s reliance on using screens with other important activities. Time away from what’s going on online can help them feel calmer, so that’s a great wellbeing reason for them to take a break from their screen. It’s also a great way of providing a space for them to talk through their concerns, without having a ‘big chat’.

Research suggests that most children are actually more cautious than adults online, and that most are good at navigating the internet safely. Often when they do come across upsetting content, it’s not because they’ve gone looking for it, but because they’ve found it by accident, or because someone’s sent it to them.

It’s a good idea to reassure your child that they can always talk to you. But don’t forget that you know them best, and may well recognise if something seems ‘not quite right’. If that’s the case there are a number of things you can do to help:

  • Ask them if they’ve seen anything online that they are not comfortable with (they may have seen things like nasty comments, sexual content or violent images.)
  • Tell them that you won’t be cross or overreact if they tell you about something they’ve seen, and that you’d much rather that they talked to you, instead of keeping it to themselves.
  • If they are upset or worried about something they’ve seen, talk about how they feel, and how they can avoid coming across that content again in future.
  • If necessary, help them to report or block content they find disturbing.
  • It’s also natural that you might feel upset or cross about what they’ve been exposed to and how it might have affected them, but whatever happens, stay calm.

Matt Allman, Headteacher, sad: “Every so often we will get a message from a parent about an online problem – an incident, an unkind message, etc – and there will be mixture of anger and shock. We are happy to help and to sort things out. Even so, we always come to the point where we ask what the parent is doing to police their child: do they check their accounts; do they know who they communicate with; do they monitor their usage; do they set time limits. On the rare occasions when an incident happens, the first instinct can be to contact the school, and though we do not discourage this, it is also worth looking in the mirror and reflecting on whether you (as a parent) could being doing more. It could be Google or Snapchat, Bing or Instagram, there are benefits and risks, but there is always an element of parental responsibility to educate about online safety.”