The first part of this article appeared in the Chiswick Herald on the 5th Janaury, read it on page 21 here, or read below:
Do you struggle to talk to your children about their use of the internet and their safety and wellbeing? Are you tempted to stop your children using the internet altogether? Are you unclear yourself on what is appropriate internet use? Do you fear that talking to your children will only serve to drive them to hide their use of the internet from you?
Over the next couple of articles I will endeavour to provide some useful information on current thinking. However I will also offer some guidance on how to prepare and raise potentially difficult conversations about the use of the internet with your children.
In June this year new studies provided evidence that moderate use of the internet and social media does actually benefit children and young people. Suggesting that use of social media helps build resilience and develop social skills thus having a positive impact on mental wellbeing. So it looks as though the usual thinking about moderation in all things does also apply to the new digital age too. In a future article we will look at what “moderate” use means however for this article we will focus on safety.
In the news this week has been the work by the National Crime Agency to protect children using live streaming platforms, work that resulted in 192 arrests and the safeguarding of 245 children. However National Police Chiefs' Council Lead for Child Protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey, said:
“We will keep working together to do this, adapting our approach so that nowhere online is safe for people out to groom children or view them being abused. But we also need help. We need internet companies to help us stop access to sexual abuse images and videos and prevent abuse happening on their platforms.We need parents and carers to talk to their children about healthy relationships and staying safe online.”
A new animation has been developed and released to show how offenders try to build relationships online with young people and guidance for both parents and children on the risks posed by live streaming is available on the “Thinkuknow” website.
The website is helpful in providing information on warning signs to look out for, actions to take and how to access further support and information. As they point out, the best way to address these issues is to be able to have “Calm and open conversations” however they also recognise that you might find trying to talk about safety overwhelming and that you might yourself struggle with difficult feelings.
They provide really great information on how as a parent you need to act and also what you might expect to experience yourself and how to manage that. I think this is really valuable reading if you are at all hesitant in starting a conversation because it is possible that your hesitancy is indicating that you do not yet feel fully equipped.
The only criticism I have of the information is that it is presented as a resource to be used if you find out your child has been abused, I would argue that it is really very good reading in terms of how to prepare for any potentially difficult conversation with your children. Why? Because as parents it is so easy to feel under pressure and carry expectations about how you should know what is right and wrong and know what to do.
It is natural to feel this way and it is also natural for your children to feel nervous about not getting things right, upsetting their parents or have unrealistic expectations about what you know and can help with. The important thing is to be aware of this and think these things through in anticipation of starting any conversations.
In the next article I will write about what is needed from you as parents in talking to your children about the potentially difficult subject of their internet / social media use.