I don’t know about you, but the thought of my children being active online terrifies me. They’re still young, but I’m well aware of the dangers that children can face online.

Susan McLean published a really useful book called Sexts, Texts and Selfies: How to Keep Your Children Safe in the Digital Space, which deals with the tough issues around keeping your children safe online. We asked her a few questions about the book and she’s given some excellent advice for all parents.

Six tips for keeping your kids safe online

1. Why do parents need to be aware of what their children are doing online? 

Just as parents need to be aware of what their children do in the real world, the same applies online.

They need to know how cyberspace works, the apps/sites/games their children are using and whether they are suitable or not.  Is there an age restriction to obey? Is the content suitable for THEIR child, not the child down the street?

They also need to know who their kids are communicating with and understand the risks. If you don’t know what you are trying to protect your child from, you can’t protect them.

2. What do you think children need to know when they are utilising digital spaces? 

That everything is public and permanent. There is no such thing as privacy online only degrees of security and once it is sent you CANNOT get it back ever!

Privacy is not hiding stuff from Mum and Dad and there are lots of creepy people out their just waiting to latch onto naive kids. Never talk online to someone you don’t know. You must actually know them in the real world, not just know ‘of’ them or have met them online.

That is a Stranger NOT and online ‘friend’.

3. I really resonated with the points that you made about the digital footprint. What advice would you give children about protecting their online identity? 

Understand that it is really up to you how you are perceived online so you can control the good and the bad, but you have to work at it.

Think before you post, know how things are shared and act quickly if you find something not so good about yourself out there. Don’t allow others to tag you in photos and control all areas of you social media accounts. Think about your email address and what it says about you too.

Sexy, flirty email addresses are not professional. Neither are sexualised selfies as a profile picture. Think: Is what I am about to do respectful to myself and others and is it a responsible use of technology?

4. Gone are the days where parents could control online access by having a computer in the lounge. Can you give parents some advice about managing digital devices?

Nothing has really changed….the rules are the rules regardless of device and still keep ALL digital devices out of bedrooms as no matter how good a parent you are, you cannot supervise in a bedroom.

If an older child needs to write an essay at their desk then turn the WiFi OFF. It is that simple, but you have to be prepared. iPod’s are a phone by another name and connect to the internet so if you just want them to listen to music, make sure wifi is off and cannot be connected otherwise texts and calls can be made.

5. If parents are concerned about what their child is doing online, where can they get help? 

Speak to your child to sort out what exactly is going on and what you are dealing with. Speak to your child’s school as most have IT support and welfare staff to assist. The family doctor or psychologist can assist with mental health issues as well. It is important to act sooner rather than later.

6. Is there anything else that you would want parents to know about keeping children safe online? 

Be aware and be involved.

Embrace technology for the wonderful opportunities it offers but be mindful and educate yourself about the dangers. Go online with your children and interact with them in their space. It really is a lot of fun.  Act promptly and trust your instincts but be the parent, NOT your child’s best friend.

You know your child best so investigate if something is not right. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

For more expert tech and cyber-safety advice, check out our Technology section.

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