Your Child's Online Safety Q&A
Dr. Maureen Griffin answered many questions in relation to your children's online safety during a recent Q&A session on our Facebook page.
We wanted to share some of the questions and answers here so that it can benefit anyone that may have missed the live session. For more information on Dr. Maureen or to view our Online Safety Video series, please click here.
When do I know if it’s the right time to get my child a phone?
If you are considering getting your child their own mobile phone, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do they really need it for day to day life?
- Will it provide greater safety for your child when they are away from home and/or give you a greater sense of relief?
- Do you feel they will know how to use it responsibly?
If you answer “yes” to these then it may be time to consider getting your child a phone.
Bear in mind that the phone that you purchase does not need to be a top-of-the-range smart phone. If you are thinking of giving your child a phone for safety reasons, this could simply be an old phone that you no longer use, that is given to your child when they are away from you/away from home. Talk to your child about responsible use of their phone and set limits on its use. Check out the mobile phone company’s website for more information on parental controls and dual access services. You may also like to watch out for the mobile phone safety video and booklet from Laya Healthcare which will be made available here www.layahealthcare.ie/onlinesafety
My twins are nearly 18 months of age and they are very interested in playing with my iPhone. Should I try and discourage this or use it as a tool for entertaining /educating them?
As technology is a central part of our lives it is understandable that our children are going to be curious about it. The American Paediatric Association recommends that there should be NO "screen time" for children under 2 years of age, as research suggests that it can impair language development and cause sleep difficulties. They suggest that if you are allowing your child screen time this should be limited to 15-20 minutes. I personally feel that it depends on how you are using technology with your children. If you are engaged with them when using technology this can form part of your "talking time". There are numerous Apps designed for very young children that you can use on your iPhone. I would recommend using "guided access" for your iPhone when using it with smaller children, as this temporarily restricts your device to a particular app. As children pick up on our habits from a young age, you can show them how technology has a place within our lives -e.g. not using phone when eating dinner etc. Also bear in mind that 18 month olds will not understand that iPhones do not like to be dipped in water or covered in yogurt!
My 15 year old got an iPhone and I never knew it had such easy access to just about anything - how can I make sure he stays safe? It might just be a funny picture that he thinks he's sharing but I worry. Any advice?
I would recommend checking out your mobile phone company's website. Most mobile phone companies offer a dual access service which gives both parent and child access to the account records held on the child’s phone. You can also limit certain services on your child’s phone (e.g. MMS, internet etc.). Check out the parental control section of your mobile phone company’s website or visit their store for more information. There are also numerous Apps available that you can install on his phone (e.g. Mobile Minder, Selfie Cop) which email parents a copy of their child’s, phone activity. Regarding the pictures, an Irish App called SelfieCop sends parents a copy of every picture the child takes on their phone. A word of warning though -if you have never checked your child’s phone and now decide that you are putting spy ware on it -this can cause more harm than good to your relationship, as it is sending the message to your son that you do not trust him. I would talk to him about what is okay to share online and how one funny picture can affect future career prospects. Work in real life examples to make it more real for him.
I'm not a prude, but I think the photos kids post online these days are ridiculous. I've told my daughter if I ever catch her posting them type of pics, with her wearing barely anything, I'll chuck her phone away. She says she never would. But how can I be sure? She has a boyfriend and I worry at that age she just might do something stupid that she'd regret later on. She's 16.
Talking to your daughter about this is very important. You could use media sources to open up a discussion about what could happen if she sent inappropriate pictures, the pressures to send pictures like this, how to deal with requests for pictures, where the pictures might end up, how she would feel if the pictures were shared with others etc. There are also films made about sexting which could demonstrate the potential dangers of engaging in such behaviour. Finally, there is an Irish App called SelfieCop which sends parents a copy of every picture the child takes on their phone. A word of warning though -if you have never checked your child’s phone and now decide that you are putting spy ware on it -this can cause more harm than good to your relationship, as it is sending the message to your daughter that you do not trust her. I would continue with the conversations, working in real life examples to make it more real for her. Make sure that she knows she can come to you if she needs to talk about any of this.
What are the warning signs for kids being bullied - I'm terrified this will happen and my son won't tell me. He's a quiet lad, and spends a lot of time 'online'.
Every child deals with bullying differently but the following are some signs to watch out for:
- He may appear stressed or upset when online or using his phone
- He may withdraw from family and friends
- He may be reluctant to attend school and after school activities
- He may exhibit signs of low self-esteem, frustration, anger, even a sense of hopelessness, depression or fear
- He may be unable to concentrate at school
- He may feel suspicious of others –this is particularly true in cases of anonymous cyber-bullying
- He may stop eating or have difficulty sleeping
- In serious cases he may engage in self-harm
Bear in mind that the above signs/symptoms are not unique to cyber-bullying. It is important to talk to him if you feel worried or concerned. You could use examples of bullying that have appeared in the media to open up a discussion. Asking about his friends experiences of bullying is another good way to start the conversation. You may also like to watch out for the cyberbullying video and booklet from Laya Healthcare which will be made available here www.layahealthcare.ie/onlinesafety
My 10 year old has asked me for a smart phone - I've said no, but it looks like all the other friends have them, I just think it's too young - if I give in and get one, are there things I can put on it so she can't access the full internet?
I agree that 10 years of age is very young for a smart phone especially given the price of the most popular phones. Most mobile phone companies offer a dual access service which gives both parent and child access to the account records held on the child’s phone. You can also limit certain services on your child’s phone (e.g. MMS, internet etc.). Check out the parental control section of your mobile phone company’s website or visit their store for more information. There are also numerous Apps available that you can install on his phone. For instance Mobile Minder and Selfie Cop, which email parents a copy of their child’s, phone activity. Talk to your child about what is okay and not okay to do with their phone and set limits on its use. Look out for Laya Healthcare’s video on Mobile Phone safety which will be appearing here www.layahealthcare.ie/onlinesafety
My 13 year old wants to use Facebook - is that too young?
Should my 12 year old have an email address? And if so - is there any way I can put a monitor on it so I can see what's going on? I know I sound crazy, but I want to safe rather than sorry. And will that include instant messaging?
Most children want an email account so they can set up a social networking or messaging account etc. Some children also use email to stay in contact with friends who live far away (somewhat like pen-pals). You could monitor his account by using your own e-mail address as the secondary e-mail when setting it up. Initial information about the account and correspondence regarding problems will then come to your email account. Once you have set up the account, you can access the settings page. If you click on the link that says "Forwarding and POP/IMAP" (Gmail accounts, it may be slightly different for other email accounts), you will be able to forward your child's messages to your own e-mail address. Yes, if your child has an email account they can also IM (instant message) friends. There are numerous Apps and spying software that you can purchase to monitor this. I would recommend talking to your child about what is okay and not okay to send by email prior to setting up an account. Also stress the importance of not opening attachments from people he/she does not know. The best parental control when it comes to internet safety is parental involvement. Hope this helps.
I can't seem to create different user accounts with different levels of filtering on my iPad. I want to let my younger son use it, but don’t want him to be exposed to everything. How or can I do this? Thanks
Unfortunately, as far as I am aware, Apple does not support multiple user accounts with different levels of filtering, as some android tablets do. Some people suggest that the reason they do not enable this feature is so that you will have to purchase individual ipads for each child and/or adult in the family, each with their own settings. Depending on the age of your child it may be useful to check out their guided access feature, which locks your child within a particular app. They would have to enter a 4 digit pin to leave the app so make sure you keep that to yourself. It is very straight forward. Once you have guided access enabled it simply involves triple clicking the home button. I have included a link here http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5509 that will talk you through it. Hopefully Apple will support multiple user accounts where you can enable different filtering setting and features in the future.
If my daughter's Facebook page is totally private, can she still be targeted by others - strangers, bullies, etc?
Unfortunately yes. Your child does not need to be online to be the target of cyber-bullying. People can speak about us behind our back in real life and it is the same online, although the audience now is much larger. Having her account private and knowing her online friends will reduce the risk (particularly from strangers) but does not stop someone else from posting things about her. Talk to your daughter about what to do in case something happens online so that she knows she can come to you, report it to the website, block the person, etc. It is important that we give our children the skills to deal with the situations they might find themselves in online. You may also like to watch out for the cyberbullying video and booklet from Laya Healthcare which will be made available here www.layahealthcare.ie/onlinesafety
I have 3 children ranging from 6 months to 5 years and I'll admit it, we always have the TV on!!! Is it too much 'screen time'?
The American Paediatric Association recommends that there should be NO "screen time" for children under 2 years of age, as research suggests that it can impair language development and cause sleep difficulties. They suggest that if you are allowing your child screen time this should be limited to 15-20 minutes. They found that on average children spend approx. 7 hours per day in front of screens (TV, Phone, Tablet etc.) They recommend no more than 2 hours per day. I personally feel that it depends on how you are using technology with your children. If you are engaged with them when using technology, this can form part of your "talking time". Also try to avoid TV during meal times as this can distract from eating causing children to under/over eat.
My son spends a lot of time in his bedroom playing his PS game, he spends most of his free time in his room and rarely meets his friends. I'm very worried and don't know what to do?
This is a concern for a lot of parents so you are not on your own. Games typically create reward cycles making it difficult for players to leave the game, as they are on to the next level etc. It is therefore important to set time limits and keep the game console out of the bedroom. For some children, gaming is a phase, they could play for 8 hours each Saturday but when friends call they leave the game and interact with them. As you have said that your son rarely meets his friends and spends a lot of time in his room, this can be very isolating for him and may be having an impact on friendships in real life. As I do not know how old your son is you can pick from the following recommendations in terms of what suits your needs best. 1. Removing the game console from the bedroom and setting time limits; 2. Checking with the school about how he is interacting with other children during school hours; 3. Visiting your GP who will be able to provide advice and support. As gaming offers players constant rewards and instant gratification it can be addictive. Encourage hobbies that take time and self-discipline to master like learning a new instrument/language/sport and praise his progress. I hope this helps and wish you all the best.
I often talk to the kids about cyberbullying, but what's the best way to approach kids about this to make them listen?
It is great that you often talk to your children about this. Although you may think they are not listening to you, if they find themselves in such a situation they will rely on what you have told them, so continue the conversations. You could use real case examples from the media and ask them what they would have done in this situation etc. There are also some good films about cyber-bullying that will help open up a discussion. Asking them about their friend’s experiences of cyber-bullying is another good way to bring up a discussion as it slightly distances the conversation from them. Keep talking and make sure they know that if something happens online they can come to you for help.
My son has been the victim of cyber-bullying and has been badly affected by it. What can I do to ensure this never happens again - by phone, or online?
I am so sorry to hear about your son’s situation. I wish I could give you simple steps to avoid cyber-bullying but unfortunately it is not that easy. Some parents feel that if their child is not online this means they cannot be cyber-bullied. However, this is not the case, as people can talk about you online regardless of whether or not you are online. My advice is as follows: 1. Avoid sites that are full of hate and abuse where cyber-bullying is much more prevalent; 2. Know and trust your online friends and followers; 3. Watch what you are sharing online -as soon as you post a picture or comment you lose control of that information and it can be used by others to mock or bully you. Most important is to be involved in your child’s online activities. Explain to your son why people bully and let him know that it is not his fault. Make sure he knows that he can come to you if anything happens online and show him how to report issues on the sites he is using. You may want to link in with your GP who can offer advice and support on dealing with the bullying he has experienced. I hope this helps.
My son is 10 and wants Grand Theft Auto. I know its 18+ but everyone else seems to be playing it. What should I do?
My personal opinion is that 18+ games like Grand Theft Auto are not suitable for children younger than this age. However, I do understand the pressures that are put on parents when “all their friends” have the game. From my experience in visiting over 450 schools across Ireland –not all children are playing these games. The excuse of “everybody else has it” has been used for generations. There is also the added difficulty that even though you ban the game in your house, they can play it at a friend’s house. I would try and hold out as long as you can, as these games have extremely violent and sexual content that is age inappropriate for a 10 year old. Talk to him about why he wants to play this game in particular. For some children, they simply like the action and the characters and do not engage in the violent or sexual side of the game. If this is the case you can get him a more age appropriate action game. Check out the Pan European Game Information website http://www.pegi.info/ie/ which provides practical advice to parents in additional to game ratings and reviews. You can search for games based on age rating and read reviews from other players/parents. If you are going to allow the game, play it together so that you can see what the game entails and what he plays it for. You may also like to check out the Online Gaming Video and booklet from Laya Healthcare which can be accessed here www.layahealthcare.ie/onlinesafety
Can I set up my kids' phones so they can only receive calls/texts from approved numbers?
Yes there are starter mobile phones such as Teddyfone or Firefly mobile that you could use. Teddyfone is restricted to calling 4 numbers and can automatically text 3 numbers in an emergency. It has no screen so children cannot view content. It also contains GPS so your child can be located if lost. FireFly mobile phones are another option and possibly the most recognised. These phones are designed for children aged 5 to 12 years. They do not offer texting or internet services. A parent or guardian can programme 22 numbers into the phone and they are the only numbers the child can contact. You can also enable call screening which only allows the numbers programmed into the phone to ring the phone. It should be available to purchase in any of the main mobile phone shops or online. Alternatively, you can contact your mobile phone company and see what services they can offer you.
What age should kids be allowed online? Like on a smartphone? I'm thinking 15 is time enough, I have a 12 year old who thinks very differently. Help.
I think that this is a very personal choice and depends on family circumstances and lifestyle. For instance some parents who work or live away from home find that giving their children technology (i.e. phone, iPad) allows greater contact. Children can Skype their mam or dad when they are away with work. Additional, for children that are involved in after-school activities, having a mobile can offer parents a sense of security while the child is not with them.
Personally, I feel that when a child is beginning secondary school is a good time for their first phone (and this does not have to be a smart phone). There are some children who have smart phones and use them more responsibly than some adults. You know your child best. Remember it is okay to say NO –we should give our children what they NEED not what they WANT. If you are considering getting a smart phone for your child in the future ask your mobile phone company about what services they can offer you as a parent. Also set rules with your child about what is okay and not okay to do with their phone. Best of luck.
My 6 year old has asked me repeatedly about playing the Playstation like his older brother. I have flat out said no as I believe he is too young. But it's becoming a real struggle, so I am considering reaching an agreement - what games are suitable for the younger family members?
I agree that 6 years of age is too young. Although, I have met children as young as senior infants with game consoles, I think that 5th/6th class is time enough. That being said, there are some great family games out there and some very good age appropriate games for younger children. Check out the Pan European Game Information website http://www.pegi.info/ie/ which provides practical advice to parents in additional to game ratings and reviews. You can search for games based on age rating and read reviews from other players/parents. Set limits on the amount of time and the games that can be played. You may also like to check out the Online Gaming Video and booklet from Laya Healthcare which can be accessed here www.layahealthcare.ie/onlinesafety