Parenting expert Katharine Hill, UK director of the charity Care For The Family, is releasing a book that offers advice to mums and dads anxious to ensure their children are being smart and safe when it comes to the web.
DO NOT TRY TO BAN TECHNOLOGY
‘It’s not about making their world a smaller place and banning technology,’ Katherine said.
‘At the end of the day even if yours doesn’t, other kids in the playground will have a device – it’s about teaching them to discern what is right and wrong.’
DO NOT LET CONSTANTLY BEING ON A PHONE BECOME THE ‘DEFAULT’
‘Be intentional as a parent, or a grandparent, don’t let constantly being on a smartphone or looking at a screen the default media use,’ the expert said.
‘Being intentional also involves talking about media use, little and often… on the school run, in the home.’
Katharine also advises setting guidelines for each of your children depending on their age around when and where they are allowed to use their devices.
DO DRAW UP A ‘FAMILY MEDIA AGREEMENT’
The mother-of-four says the most important thing parents can do is equip children with the ability to deal with the technology around them – and the opportunities and threats it poses – through shared ‘family values’.
‘Parents have to equip young people to deal with the internet themselves through family values around technology,’ she said.
‘As they get older, make a family media agreement. Just sit down and talk about what they are allowed to watch, who pays for media, talking about all this in line with your [own] family values.’
DO CHARGE DEVICES DOWNSTAIRS AT NIGHT
Katharine said: ‘Simple parts of the family media agreement can include things like everyone – including mum and dad – charging all devices downstairs at night.
‘When our kids were young we put the computer in the family room, but with smartphones there is no equivalent to shutting the internet off… this is the closest thing.’
DO HAVE PARENTAL LOCKS ON DEVICES FOR KIDS
According to Katharine her research shows that when children are younger it is especially important to have parental controls and locks on websites and phones.
‘The average age we have found for kids to come across pornography is 11,’ she reveals. ‘They are not necessarily looking for it, but they come across it. One boy typed in “Big Ben” and didn’t get a clock in Westminster.’
DO GET INVOLVED IN THEIR ONLINE LIVES
With teenagers it is about staying informed, Katharine said – even to the point of following them on Instagram.
She said: ‘Encourage teenagers to use technology as part of family activity. So take a family photo on a walk and post it to Instagram together.
‘Doing this makes the family part of that social media life, part of that identity they are setting up on Instagram. It is important to show interest and join in.’
DO GET INFORMED AND BE READY TO TALK
Katharine said: ‘Don’t bury your head in the sand and just avoid difficult issues. Parents think ‘my child never look at porn’, but they will, so parents need to be informed about what is going on technologically, so our kids know they can come to us and talk about anything.
‘The sexting thing is massive, it’s often a precursor to dating now – the guy asks for topless photo and then he sends one back. It’s actually illegal under 18, but parents dealing with that best is not just telling teenagers off – it’s about coming alongside and helping them.
‘Help them think through the consequences of their actions – is it going to be passed on? Would you do it offline? That way they are less likely to do it again, or ever start.’
DO CURB YOUR OWN SCREEN USE
The expert explained: ‘It is very important is to be a good model yourselves. Values are caught, not taught. On the playground, at school, parents are doing emails and not making eye contact, that is not ideal.
‘Surveys show young people want to know about how to act around technology from their parents, though it may not seem like it. So you need to show them you know how to deal with digital technology, not just tell them what to do.’
Katharine explores these themes and more – including tackling teen Internet addiction in the age of Snapchat and Instagram – in her new book Left To Their Own Devices? Confident Parenting In A World Of Screens.
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