All I Want for Christmas – Is For Children to be Safe: A Child Therapist’s Advice for Parents Buying Smart Technology for Christmas

Welcome to the October edition of our featured therapist BlogSpot where HCPC Registered Child Therapist Lucy Johnson discusses the dilemmas faced by many parents who consider introducing or updating children’s modern devices such as smart phones, tablets and other internet connected technologies. Lucy uses her extensive experience of working therapeutically with young people to model a sensible and balanced attitude that allows children access to the digital world in a way that is balanced, safe and reasonable whilst also encouraging good family communication and effective negotiation.

Lucy specialises in working with issues concerning childhood sexual exploitation

Lucy Johnson HCPC Registered Creative Arts Therapist. specialist in working with issues concerning childhood sexual exploitation

I know that it is October, and no one really wants to be thinking about Christmas (although many shops are already stocking Christmas cards and decorations) but the reality is that parents/carers and family members will be starting to think about what presents to get this year.

For a lot of people, the thought of giving a tablet or smart phone is becoming more common and the pressures of ‘well my friends have got one,’ is harder to fight for parents.

I advocate for children using technology for learning, development and keeping in contact with family and friends, however as we are all aware these devices come with the somewhat hidden dangers of the internet. We are also seeing an increase with children suffering from anxieties and struggling somewhat with social interactions, all which seem to me to have grown since the increase in use of social media and ease of access to the internet.

From Child Sexual Exploitation to online bullying – the other side of the internet can be a scary place, especially for those parents and adults who did not grow up with the internet as such a central and dominant role as it takes in our daily lives now.

I may not be an ‘IT Guru’, but having worked in the field of Child Sexual Exploitation for 9 years supporting victims of child abuse, I am a specialist in how online abuse impacts a child’s mental health and future development.  So, I have put together some top tips to be given to parents/carers that will hopefully make giving these types of gifts less of a worry and will encourage thought around how to make the internet a safer place. Please share these tips with other parents and hopefully we can keep more children safe online!

  1. Put a contract in with the phone/tablet between parent and child or for younger children include Santa and put rules in place for owning the device.
  2. Make sure you have the pin to the phone and any passwords for apps that they are using or have access to, if they won’t allow you to have these then don’t allow them the device.
  3. Set any apps up from your own email address, or one you create together so that you can keep a check on what they are viewing or going on.
  4. Call you Wi-Fi provider and discuss security settings before giving the items to the child – most providers have specialists in this field now due to child protection laws.
  5. Make sure you know what sites have age restrictions and what they are – if your child wants to play on certain games then some have settings that can ‘tone down’ violence, language and gore but remember age restrictions are there for a purpose.
  6. Have time outs from the phone/tablet set up from the beginning – children do not need to sleep with a device in their room…alarm clocks do exist. This is a constant argument that most parents have with children but where possible set these times out before giving of the device.
  7. Have consequences in place for over usage and make sure the child knows what these are from the beginning, children must know rules prior to the consequence being imposed.
  8. Consider ‘Nanny Apps’ there are plenty out there to choose from – this allows you to sync all items to one app and means you can turn of WIFI to certain peoples items (then not everyone gets punished for one person’s actions)
  9. Show an interest and make sure you are ‘friends’ with or ‘follow’ your children on all sites, even if you don’t use them yourself for any other reason keep an eye on who they are following or friends with.
  10. If you need help setting something up then ask your child or children to help you set up privacy settings – this demonstrates that they have these skills and you can ask questions in a non-confrontational way.
  11. Make sure you lead by example when using devices yourself.
  12. Have a bedtime for devices for everyone in the house – have a box that everything goes into. We know that devices and the light from the screen are a stimulant to the brain and there its best for EVERYONE that we are not on these before bedtime.
  13. Make sure any picture you or your child post are appropriate, don’t show where you live or what school your child goes to. Don’t post pictures of your child wearing logos from sports clubs etc.
  14. Have open talks with your children about safety online and offline, make sure they know people and think about what could happen if they were to talk to someone they didn’t know.
  15. Use websites such as thinkuknow.co.ukto educate yourself and your children. Thinkuknow is an education programme from the National Crime Agency that aims to empower children and young people to identify the risks they may face online and know where they can go for support.

I don’t want to scare people around internet usage, but we know that if we don’t allow children these devices they may become secretive and go on their friends without our knowledge. It’s important that we encourage usage in a safe and open way.

Make sure your children have a Happy and Safe Christmas!

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