These are some of the questions we are most commonly asked at CyberSafeKids, and while there often isn’t always an easy answer (which is what we’re all looking for, right?) hopefully these will help a little!
What age should I get my child a smartphone or a smart device?
There is no simple answer to this. Much of it depends on the child themselves, and your relationship with them. It’s also worth considering what a smartphone will be used for, and if it’s really necessary (e.g. safety, long commute etc.). If you do give your child a smartphone, it’s essential that you continue to monitor their use of it, and set very clear guidelines for use in advance: these should be discussed and revised regularly through open, trusting dialogue.
What age should kids go on social media?
The minimum age restriction for almost all social media apps is 13. For some apps, such as WhatsApp, it’s actually 16. In Ireland the digital age of consent is officially set at 16 by law, so young people should have parental permission to be on these platforms between the ages of 13 and 16. If you want to double check the age restrictions, we recommend you go to the website of the individual app or platform, rather than using the age recommendations you might find on popular app stores.
What is a healthy amount of screen time?
This was a difficult question to answer, even pre-pandemic. Much attention has been traditionally paid to the length of screen time but it’s also important to consider quality as well as quantity. Again, what is considered ‘a healthy amount’ is going to depend on the values of your family, and also the personality of your child. Rather than simply putting a number on it, investigate what your child is doing online and the kind of activities they are involved in. Ask questions like, Are these productive activities? Are they using their online time creatively? Are the kind of things they’re doing going to have a potentially harmful effect? Each household has to establish restrictions that best suit their specific situation, but it is better those restrictions are agreed as a family through discussion, and once put in place that they are stuck to (by adults also)!
My child is being bullied online, what can I do?
There is no easy answer to this and it’s a very difficult situation for a parent to be in. Your first response should always be to reassure your child. If it’s the first time that you’ve become aware of this, talk to them and find out as much as you can about when it started, why it might have been happening and how it’s making them feel. If the child has physical evidence of this kind of behaviour, screenshot the texts and messages. On whichever platforms the behaviour is happening, make sure that you block the users in question and also report them to the platform through the channels which are provided by all apps: often this can be done by the click of a button (or two). Depending on where the bullying behaviour has originated, we would also recommend talking to the child’s school, and if the bullying has reached the level of serious harassment or threat of harm or violence, it may be worth considering also taking the problem to the Gardaí.
My child knows more about technology than I do, and I don’t know what they’re doing online, so how can I keep myself up-to-speed?
This is a question we get a lot, and you’ll be pleased to know the answer is very easy! There are any number of websites where you can go and find out very quickly what the popular apps and platforms of the moment are, and access information and simple explainer videos about exactly what they do, and the kind of content that your children are likely to come across while using them. We recommend you start with Common Sense Media for everything you can possibly imagine (even books!) and PEGI for gaming.
I’m worried that my child has shared something they shouldn’t have online, what should I do?
This can be a real shock for any parent. The first step is to reassure the child as this can be very distressing for them. After that, it’s important to make sure that you have control of the device on which it was shared, and through discussion with your child, try and ascertain when and how the content was shared. You can also ask people who may have received or saved that content to delete it from their devices also. If the content is still visible on an app or platform, delete it immediately.
Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to know where content will end up once it has been shared online, even if deleted from the device in question. It’s possible to lobby apps or platforms to have the content removed, but at the moment this is not always particularly effective, and if the content has not been deemed to violate the platform’s own guidelines it’s very unlikely it will be removed. Continue to talk with your child about the importance of protecting your privacy online, and thinking really carefully before they post. A good general rule of thumb is that if you are unsure about whether to post it, it’s probably a good idea not to!