Safer Internet Day: Advice for Digital Wellbeing

As we move further into the digital age of distance learning, online socialising and online downtime, the reality for our children - if it wasn’t already pre-COVID - is worlds apart from the one most of us remember from our childhoods. As many schools will celebrate Safer Internet Day this week, we asked Barry Lee Cummings from the UAE based initiative "Beat The Cyberbully" for his top tips on digital wellbeing.
Safer Internet Day: Advice for Digital Wellbeing
By Jenny Mollon
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Barry Lee Cummings, founder of Beat the Cyberbully offers parents his five top tips for keeping teenagers safe online.

Right now, our children don’t listen to us because we aren’t saying anything of interest to them. That might be difficult for some of us to take on board! After all, we are the parents, they should listen to us because, well....we are their parents.

Something we can all do is to think back to when we were their age. Perhaps we didn’t listen to our parents either? Back then it was not necessarily because of a technology gap, just a generational gap. How could our parents possibly understand how it was to be a child in the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s when they were already so old by then!

Our children today look at us strangely when we talk about ‘when we were young’ because that world is such a massive departure from our current one, it verges on ridiculous. It’s one that they have ZERO connection with, no reference points at all. For most of them, screens, tablets, smart phones, smart TV’s, Netflix, Spotify, and everyone on demand is NORMAL. That is real life to them, as much as us parents might not want it to be.

So, it’s well past time that our conversations and discussion went from harking back to the ‘good old days’, and even away from screen time management. Yes, as much as possible we want to get them off the screens and outside, doing something physical, playing an instrument, or just using their imagination. BUT, we also have to admit, mainly to ourselves, that our children are growing up in a digital world. They need protection from a digital world, they need empowerment for a digital world, and they need preparation and guidance for a digital world.

In short that means our job as parents, as if it wasn’t hard enough already, has got harder. It means that to a certain extent, we need to upgrade ourselves. We need to go back to school, so to speak, to gain a better understanding of the digital space so that we can position ourselves with our children as more than a chef and a driver. We are there for them when something goes wrong – and they know that we are there, with an understanding ear, and not judgement or punishment as the first port of call.

However we are in a transition period as a society. Parents are trying to figure it out and, believe it or not, so are our children. They are doing what children are supposed to do. They are pushing boundaries in order to learn - sometimes in order to learn really harsh life lessons the hardest way possible. Just like we did. But that doesn’t negate the fact that we still need to put things in place to as much as possible, to safeguard our children’s wellbeing and mental health in the digital sphere.

So, what can we do?

1. Provide an open communication channel for your children.

From as early an age as possible, foster the idea that there is a platform for your children to be heard. Create a safe time/space for your children where you encourage them to talk about whatever is on their mind, positive or negative. Make it clear, in your actions, not just your words, that during this time there will be no judgement, no punishment but an open ear to listen. It’s hard and will take practice. Our parental urge is to jump in and punish, educate or fix, but sometimes our children don’t want or need that. They just want someone to listen. Be that outlet.

2. Set healthy boundaries for tech in the home.

Again we should try to do this as young as possible. Come up with an acceptable use policy (AUP) for the home. One that you as mum and dad will adhere to as well, and build it together. This removes some of the ‘them and us’ and ‘it’s not fair’ scenarios. At the end of the day we are in this together, and if we approach this a family unit, we have a much better chance of a positive outcome. Long gone are the days of ‘do as you’re told’, we have to model what we want from our children. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as many of us also need to redress our own tech usage. Now is the perfect time.

3. Keep an eye out for teachable moments, not just for you to teach them, but the other way around as well.

Asking questions of your children about the digital world they inhabit creates a potential conversation around a subject they love. Asking how they do something on Roblox, Minecraft or TikTok will give them an opportunity to demonstrate to you what they know. Sometimes it will amaze you just how creative they are. It will also teach you about the in’s and out’s of the apps or platforms, enhancing your own level of understanding. During your education it will also identify talking points where you, as a parent, can teach your children a little bit about some of the repercussions or fall out from scenarios they may have outlined in their teaching of you. It’s a chance for us to fall back on some of our life experience and intertwine that with some of the up-to-date information we have curated about the digital space.

4. Teach your children not to respond to cyberbullying or threats made online.

This doesn’t mean teaching them to ignore it, but rather not respond to it. Cyberbullying is a power shift. If you react and respond, you give the power straight back to the aggressor, with the message that they are getting to you, which of course encourages them to do more.  Instead they should capture the messages, images, videos or any evidence they can. Report the offending party on whichever app or platform it’s taking place on and then talk to a responsible adult, whether that’s a teacher, counsellor or ideally you.

5.  If your child is a gamer, implement a no headphones rule whilst gaming.

It might be annoying, but you would be surprised at some of the language being used on shared gaming servers. If you allow your 11 year old to play Call of Duty online, they will be online with people of all ages and all backgrounds. Aside from language, these shared servers are also known as places that predators target young people.

At the same time, as part of your Acceptable Use Policy, think about implementing no devices in bedrooms. There is absolutely no reason for a smart device to go to anyone’s bedroom. This removes the temptation to go online, it removes the opportunity to see messages or content that could cause issues and in this 24/7 world they are living in, it gives them and you a break from the continuous scroll. Create a charging station downstairs in the kitchen or front room where all smart devices (laptops as well) charge between specific times overnight. This is better for the whole family, and it might well be the brief respite your children need from the pressures of the online space today. Enough time to regroup and put their mental wellbeing front and centre - even if that’s just a good uninterrupted night’s sleep!


About Beat The CyberBully

Beat The CyberBully is an initiative that aims to increase education and awareness around online safety and digital wellbeing, reputation management, cyber bullying, and positive online, mobile and social media use. The new app, Beat The CyberBully powered by CoBabble, provides all the latest information, advice and recommendations around cybersafety from Barry Lee Cummings and his experienced team, as well as from therapists and healthcare professionals. You can download it here

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