Fostering safer digital environments for our children

It’s ‘Safer Internet Day’, this Tuesday 5 February, and it was a timely reminder for us all to be vigilant in fostering safer digital environments for our children. There a many strategies to support this, in how we establish behaviours in the early years of schooling right through to safe social media use in high school age students.

Mr Willett highly recommends visiting the governments ‘e-safety’ website for strategies that might suit your child’s needs here

One particular page on this website he found useful as a guide for parents/teachers is the recommendations made for appropriate screen time. The following excerpt was taken from the safety website on appropriate screen time –

Balancing time online

We know that kids spend a lot of time online and often from multiple devices. From homework and listening to music to instant messaging friends and checking out the latest on social media, the reality is many kids are using a screen every day. Screen time can also be an easy option to keep younger kids occupied in our busy lives. So how much screen time is too much for your child?

What do the experts suggest is appropriate for entertainment?

There is no magic guideline for the ‘right’ amount of time for children to spend online. This is a matter for you to decide—but there are guidelines that can help you in addition to factoring in the age of your kids, their maturity level and your family dynamics.

A great place to start is understanding what health professionals recommend. The Department of Health has established Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines, which include links to brochures, fact sheets and tips for physical entertainment.

What about screen time for educational purposes?

The internet is a great tool for educational support and some of the time that your child will spend online will be for this purpose. In fact, more schools are now implementing a ‘bring your own device policy’ in the classroom to take advantage of online education in the classroom. It is crucial that you help your children strike the right balance between online time for education and online time for entertainment and social networking.

There are many ways you can help your child maintain a healthy balance between online and offline activities for the benefit of their health and wellbeing.

Talk to your kids

Monitor the games, apps and devices your kids buy and then chat about any concerns you have. Your conversations should also cover positive things, such as what they love in life, careers they are interested in and new hobbies.

Find a balance

Finding balance is so important and you can help your kids with that by encouraging a mix of non-screen entertainment and socialising opportunities.

Set screen time limits

Set clear rules about when and for how long your child can play games or use the internet—the Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines provide a useful benchmark. It may take time to strike a balance but a minor reduction each day or ‘15-minutes to switch-off’ warning can help the transition. Reducing your own screen time also sets a positive example.

Create a screentime plan

Involve your kids in a family screen time plan to help set clear boundaries and balance online and offline activities. It could include an agreed age-based screen time schedule, rules about what websites can be visited and electronic games can be played (with clear consequences for breaking those rules), and control of access to the internet with daily passwords revealed once family time, homework and chores are complete. Where possible, try to avoid using screen time as a punishment as this approach may inflate its importance to children.

Filter their access

You may like to install a filter on the device your child is using that can be adjusted to limit the amount of time an internet connection will be available.
Find out more information about parental controls and filters in our Online safeguards section.

Open location for devices

Try to locate the devices that your kids use in a shared or visible place in the home.

Seek help

If your child seems particularly anxious or irritable, or you notice them becoming isolated from friends or other activities, there may be an underlying issue so seek help from your child’s school counsellor or your GP, or direct your kids to support services such as Kids Helpline (1800 55 180), which offers free and confidential counselling for young people or eHeadspace (1800 650 890) for online and telephone support for those aged 12–25.