Guide: Healthy Online Behaviour at Christmas

Barry Lee Cummings from Beat The Cyberbully offers some key advice when it comes to achieving healthy online behaviour this festive season. The biggest single piece of advice is to work upfront on an acceptable use policy for the home. It will save everyone's tears long term...
Guide: Healthy Online Behaviour at Christmas
By Jenny Mollon
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As the holiday season approaches, family discussions are inevitably turning to gifts, writes Barry Cummings of Beat The Cyber Bully.

More so than any other year, 2020 is going to be the year for gadgets, due to our current global situation and the increased time we are all spending online. Whether it’s a smart phone, tablet, laptop or gaming console, there are ‘new’ versions of all of them available and trying to find a place under the tree.

From a cybersafety perspective, parents and teachers researching the best devices for children and young people should know that Android devices offer certain advantages over Apple ones, most notably in third-party parental controls that make them a safer, more easily controlled option.

Apple keep much of their tech doors closed as a result of privacy protocols, and have to therefore provide their own solution - Screen Time. Whilst this is a comprehensive solution, there are certain functionalities which only third-party parental controls could allow for. As always, it’s a personal decision for each family.

Parents could keep iOS devices themselves and have their children on Android, but this poses a potential issue with setting up family accounts. The benefit of a family account is that your children’s devices come under the overall parent account and you can permit the download of apps, or not. For ease of use, everyone in the family having the same kind of operating system is great, but it’s not 100% essential. What is essential is the ability to speak openly with your children about what is happening and most importantly, clearly communicate what the parameters are for the use of their new digital devices.

A great way of doing this is creating an acceptable use policy (AUP) for the home. It’s something we see in businesses providing employees with guidelines on how to use social media when at work. However, it works just as well in the home too, especially when it’s created together as a family unit. Together the family can work out what the rules are going to be, how each member of the family agrees to abide by the rules, what the repercussions are for breaking the rules, and confirm that everyone is in agreement and committed to following the AUP. Acting on non-compliance is very important - and that goes for everyone in the household!

Once that is in place, we then need to look at a schedule for the holiday period. Some might say this is going a bit far and it would be easier to just see what happens. It would certainly be easier as there isn’t any work involved in just letting things play out, but if we want to keep our digital footprints intact over the festive period, we need to think ahead and plan out when certain things like family Zoom calls, homework, socialising, gaming and other digital tasks will take place. We don’t have to account for every single second, but if everyone knows when things are supposed to happen and what the limits are for doing those things (see the AUP) there’s a higher probability of smoother sailing. As much as our children and us ourselves may deny it, we do respond well to routine and guidelines, when expectations are correctly set.

As important as it is to understand when and what we can do in the digital space, it’s also essential to strike some balance during the holiday period with some digital down time. Here in the UAE, the weather is perfect for outdoor activities that don’t require a screen. It’s almost inevitable that even when you are doing an outdoor activity the device is going to be with you, but being mindful of what you are using it for is key.

Get outside and take the family for a hike in the mountains, wadis or desert. It’s quite likely phones will go with you to take photos and document the time, which is fine, just be mindful that the purpose of heading out is to be present in nature and that once the video or photo has been captured, devices go back in the bag/pocket, it doesn’t have to be sent to the ‘Gram immediately. In fact it’s a good talking point - why do we feel the need to post everything to social media? We can touch upon the ideas of dopamine release and the impact of praise from strangers. How intoxicating it is and how potentially dangerous at the same time.

As always, balance is key. And finding that balance requires some work upfront. The pay-off, however, is worth it.

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