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Take the time to keep your kids safe online

Friday the 19th March, put it in your diary, set an alert, this is National ‘Phone Free day’ the perfect opportunity for us all to stop and take stock of our phone and general screen using habits.

This is also a perfect opportunity for parents to carry out some basic family and child based online safety checks.

First question: Do you know the minimum sign up age for most of the common social media channels?

If yes – excellent, good work. You probably already know about Netsafe, and the online basics.

If no – Then please, please read on.

The minimum age is 13!

Young kid’s social and emotional capability is still developing so they don’t see the danger of connecting. But the thing is you can’t see who is actually behind the picture!

I know my kids got access before this age, because “Mum no one actually calls people on a phone anymore! and texts cost money! but tweets, snapchats and posts use the internet, and that is being paid for anyway, so pleassseee.”

I’m not here to judge, just to encourage you to use Phone Free Day as a way to take stock of where things are at now for your family.

Ask yourself the following two questions and hopefully help set your family up to be great cyber citizens.

Who has access to your family?

If I suggested that you leave your front door wide open while you were out, or overnight, you would probably look at me as if I was mad. Anyone could just wander in!

So quick question, do you turn your internet off at night?

If you have children with devices in their rooms then who knows when they are connecting to social media! All it takes is for your child to accept a friend request from someone they don’t know directly, and it’s as if that person has not only walked through your door, but straight into your child’s room!

How many strangers have you invited into your child’s room unaccompanied by you?

There are two simple steps you can take.

  • Take this opportunity to look at your connection time table. Work out when the internet needs to be on and when and how your children are connecting.

There may need to be some new rules put in place, such as no devices in rooms after a certain time, or that the server gets switched off!

If you are interest there are numerous devices out there which can help you with this, just google ‘network security’ or ‘parental software’ and you will have lots to choose from.

  • If your child is younger, or has just reached the social media age restriction, then sit down with your child and do a friend’s audit.

As they go through their friends list see who they know directly, and who they have accepted just because they were a friend of a friend, or liked their post. Encourage them to disconnect from those they do not know in person, however ‘well’ they think they have got to know them on-line. (If they feel they have formed a strong friendship with someone then maybe ask to be introduced and connected too! This may be enough to frighten off a real imposter.)

What apps are being used?

Knowing what apps your child has and how they work is a great way to keep connected with them. Kids are pretty savvy nowadays and seem to like updating us parents on things IT related.

  • Check how the app works and its features.

Some have location features which you need to go and disable! Rather than choose to turn on. This means if they are out and about without you, their ‘friends’ know where they are, and this can be scarily accurate!

  • Talk to your child about the dangers of positing personal information.

If you ask a child if they would tell a stranger in the street personal details like where they live, their age, or where they go to school, they will probably say no. However, sharing info with a friend online is probably a different story!

  • Remember that a picture can replace a thousand words

Talk about appropriateness of pictures, what types of shots they should not be being asked to share, or be seeing of other people.


When my daughters went on Instagram the agreement was that I would have access to them too. One day I was online and messages started to come in. I generally ignored the alerts but on this occasion I decided to see what was being said as a spot check. My daughter had just posted another photo of herself and a comment came up, “That top must really smell you have worn it so often.”

This was quickly followed by several messages from other followers, who were not impressed with the comment.

I sent a private message to the originator of the message, letting them know that I had seen the conversation and that even though they had since removed their comment, that next time they should not write such messages in the first place if they knew it was mean.

My daughter said that she was not bothered by it, but I pointed out that another person, one who was not quite as resilient, could have been upset by it. I phoned the mothers of those who had commented, just to let them know what had happened. I wanted to provide them with the opportunity to talk to their children about the effects of online bullying. They all thanked me for calling and I never heard anything more.

Shortly after when my daughter started Intermediate her new friend posted a picture of the two of them on her feed with the following tag, “My bestie – don’t mess with her otherwise I’ll F**k you up”. As we as a family try not to use the ‘F’ word at home, I pointed out that even though I was impressed with the strength of relationship they were building, I would rather she did not use such a tone on social media.

Though some may class this as spying, I class it as protection. Of course your child should be aware you have access, and let their friends know you have access to. In the past if your kid was playing in the street you could look out the window and check up on them. If you saw a little pushing and shoving going on you could head on out and help calm things down. Checking in on the pictures being posted and the general conversation can help your get a feel for the current vibe.

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