Like it or loathe it, we’re leaving in a digital age, and many children have learnt to swipe, scroll and select ON digital devices long before they’ve mastered riding a bike.
If you’re worried that your child is spending too much time staring at a tablet, smartphone or other digital device … you might need to agree a daily time allowance. Most devices come with parental controls that you can activate. Alternatively, you can download software such as Qustodio (www.qustodio.com) to restrict usage and block inappropriate content. Some flexibility on time limits might be needed, when your child has homework for instance, or you’re desperate for a lie-in. Apps such as Habyts (www.habyts.com) allow you to offer extra screen time as a reward for chores and good behaviour.
Teenagers need to learn how to manage their own time, and how to protect themselves online. So you may want to loosen the reins as your child gets older, and discuss what they should do if they stumble across anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Social media and instant messaging
One in five 13-18 year olds say they’ve been the victim of cyber bullying¹. However, social media can also be a way for your child to connect with their peers, and they may feel ostracised if they end up missing out on conversations. If you do decide to let your teen have their own social media account, set some boundaries. For example, you may decide that they can only have an account if you’re their ‘friend’, with the understanding that you won’t post photos of them or publicly embarrass them online. You’ll also need to talk to your child about why they should never share their address or personal details on social media, and what to do if they’re being bullied or harassed.
Be aware that teens often set up separate social media accounts to chat to their friends, and will block you from finding them. And instant messaging apps are even harder to monitor. No safeguards you put in place will bypass the need to talk to your child about online safety.
There are some really fun, educational sites and apps that might help to tear your child away from YouTube, including:
Scratch (www.scratch.mit.edu) helps you child learn basic coding. Users can create simple games, animations and stories.
Cbeebies (www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies) has a huge number of online games, puzzles and other activities. The Alphablocks School Words Quiz, for example, helps pre-schoolers and reception-aged children learn to recognise simple words. You can organise games by their educational focus, such as maths, communicating and emotions.
Comics in the Classroom (www.comicsintheclassroom.co.uk) are a range of digital comics that teach children about history. They support the Key Stage 3 and GCSE syllabus and are interactive – children have to identify correct answers to unlock more pages.
Sand:box by SmellyMoo (search the Google Play store) is an android phone app that teaches older children about physics and chemistry. The user can ‘play’ with different materials and see how they react with each other.
If you do let your child download any apps, check that they can’t make in app purchases without your approval, or you could be in for a nasty surprise.
For more advice about keeping children safe online, visit internetmatters.org. It offers a wealth of free guides and advice on everything from mental health issues to protecting children from adult content.