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Teaching responsible use of technology

Technology is an integral part of life for all of us. As parents, it can sometimes be hard to keep up with the constantly evolving new developments in technology that attract our teens. While we may not always be able to keep up with all the latest things, we can introduce a framework for our family so that the younger members can develop a healthy and safe relationship with technology.

Here you’ll find our top tips and conversation starters to encourage your teenager to use technology responsibly.

Have a frank conversation

Technology is a part of life. Help your child recognise that it’s a privilege to have this ‘tool’ and that they should use it responsibly. That means sticking to the rules you set up for its use.

Encourage them to think about the future

It’s an important lesson to learn that online material is forever. How does your child want to be seen in the world – not just now, but when they’re an adult looking for a job?

Remind them to be kind

Respect is key. Teach your child not to say or do anything online that could hurt or humiliate anyone, just as you would expect them to behave in real life. They should also not do anything that they know you would be unhappy with, such as forwarding material that would hurt or embarrass someone else.

Teach them to respect people's privacy

If they ever receive material that is private, such as personal or explicit photos or videos, they should delete them immediately. Failure to do this could have very real consequences.

Know which technologies are age appropriate

As children grow up, their use of technology will most likely increase. Mobile phones, social media and gaming all come with opportunities to connect with the wider world. While this can be great in building friendships and a sense of community, it can also mean that young people can be at risk of technology overuse, inappropriate contact with strangers and cyberbullying. As a parent, these are important considerations when deciding at what age to introduce different technologies to your child.

It’s important for you and your family to be clear about what is and what isn’t age appropriate technology. Since many challenges your teenager could face online are similar to those in the offline world, consider how well your child makes decisions, manages friendships and sets boundaries in their offline world. Maturity levels differ a lot from one child to the next, so it can be best to think about your child’s behaviours, rather than their age, when considering what technologies they should have access to.

Think about the behaviours you would like them to display before they start using certain technologies on their own. Some questions to consider include:

  • What boundaries or restrictions should be imposed when using a mobile phone? For example, they could have a phone for calls and text messaging, but without data. Or you might allow data, but come to an agreement on which sites they should access. Consider whether they understand about safety and are able to make good decisions.
  • Do they display appropriate behaviours to be able to use social media independently? Are their offline relationships healthy and strong? Do they understand the potential risks involved and what they can do about them?
  • What video games will you allow your child to play? Will they be able to balance ‘play’ between the offline and online space?

Use the questions above as talking points with your child when considering whether they should or shouldn’t be allowed access to certain technologies. As new items of technology are introduced, it’s important to have open discussions and to collaboratively set rules and boundaries around usage. Also, discuss the potential for refreshing or relaxing the rules as your child grows older.

A good resource to be more informed about the websites, games and apps that young people are using is the Common Sense Media site. It provides ratings and reviews of a huge range of online and offline entertainment options for young people that you can search and filter by age.

Brush up on your tech skills

One of the biggest fears for parents is that their child could either meet inappropriate people or engage in inappropriate activity online. By exploring and discussing safe technology use with your child, you can both become more safety-savvy in the online space.

Familiarise yourself with technology

According to a recent study by the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, the best way that you can assist your child to stay safe online is to ensure that you’re familiar with technology yourself. The study found that parents’ technical skills in using online safety controls were ranked between ‘novice’ and ‘average’, whereas young people’s skills were ranked between ‘average’ and ‘expert’. The study found that an excellent way for parents to build their skills is to ask their children to teach them. This strategy will not only increase your digital literacy, but will also give you confidence that your child knows how to stay safe online and will open up avenues of communication within the family.

Interacting safely online

Ask your child to explain to you how they keep themselves safe online – learn from them. Together, you can set some boundaries and guidelines for interacting safely online.

These strategies might include:

  • On social media, only ‘friend’ people you have met in real life.
  • Remind your child that words and pictures posted online can last forever.
  • Ensure that privacy settings on social media are set appropriately.
  • Net filters can be useful, particularly for younger children, but understand that older children can often find ways around them.

Many parents choose to monitor their child’s online activities, and choose whether or not to let the child know they’re doing so. If this is the strategy that you choose, it’s important to have discussions with them about your and their expectations of privacy.

Demonstrating trust, communicating your concerns openly and agreeing on boundaries is the best way to ensure an acceptable balance between autonomy and safety. It’s not practical to expect teenagers to simply avoid the internet, so making sure both of you have the skills and knowledge needed to use it safely is the best course of action.

Learn more about social media and safety and privacy online.

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