They say it’s good to talk. However, we can find it hard to approach certain topics as parents. For many parents, today’s digital landscape is a world away from their own childhoods but, none of us can afford to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to e-safety. Young people today are not like us. For them there is no such thing as the real world and the online world…for them they are one and the same thing. There is no distinction and the online world is just a part of the environment that they inhabit. And it is no use denying this or wishing it away. It is here and here to stay.
Of course, one way to solve the problem is to restrict or deny access to the internet and technology. However, this is not the business that we are in. Our job is not to prevent young people from doing potentially risky things, rather, it is to educate them about how to do them safely. Block and ban just doesn’t work. Instead we should put ourselves in their shoes to gain a deeper understanding about how they use the internet. Be enthusiastic about their world and show a genuine interest in what they are posting or looking at, this will then give them the opportunity to teach you about it which is something young people love.
So, how should we go about this? Well, following the old adage above, it’s good to talk. Talk to your children about their online lives (and if they don’t have one yet, they soon will). Talk to them about what interests them, what is it that they like to do and why, keep the channels of communication open and you will avoid driving their online behaviour underground. Make it a part of family life by restricting internet access to public rooms in the house rather than letting them lock themselves away in their bedrooms to go online. Make sure that you are monitoring what they are doing by talking to them rather than covertly spying on them as this will breed mistrust. Use humour and perhaps ask them if they’ve seen anything funny on YouTube recently.
So, in a sense it is easy. Talk to your children about the things that interest them. Be aware of what they are up to but don’t take the surveillance too far. Set boundaries and be realistic about what you can expect. And of course, you can talk to other parents and the staff here at school. This will help you to gain a perspective on what is normal and appropriate. On a practical level, you can have some simple rules which help to promote talking. Perhaps have a restriction on internet for the first half hour after everyone arrives home in the evening (and that means you too)! Perhaps have a phone basket in the kitchen where everyone places their phone before a meal? I’ll leave the detail up to you, however, rest assured that the Gilmour family is struggling to figure this out just as much as you might be.
John F Gilmour