Cyber safety for kids: tweens and tech

Health Agenda

Cyber safety for kids: tweens and tech

The online world is a big part of our teens’ and tweens’ lives. Here’s how to set boundaries and have the conversation about respectful, positive and productive habits and behaviour online.

Tweens and teens, like the rest of us, go online to do just about everything – socialise, study and do their life admin. The majority of young people aged 13 to 18 own a tablet or a smartphone, and recent research revealed children aged 6-13 spend an average of 10 hours a week on the internet at home.

For parents it can be difficult to work out how you can regulate the time your kids are spending on devices and how to talk about cyber safety.

A survey by the eSafety Commissioner found that 60% of parents says their kids are exposed to risks online.

The top conerns about screen time were:

  • accessing inappropriate content (60%)
  • excessive use (42%)
  • reduced fitness (36%)
  • sharing personal information (35%)
  • being bullied online (29%)
  • feeling isolated (22%)
  • negative self image (20%)
  • having contact with strangers (20%).

What are kids doing online?

Social media and messaging apps are an important part of connection for tweens and teens, but peer pressure can quickly become stressful and even toxic, and they may need support to know how to step away.

The most popular social media sites for teens are Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram. These apps can be ‘sticky’, keeping them glued to an endless scroll feed or auto-cued videos. And as they become more popular, younger kids are also signing up to these apps.

While some photo sharing, video chat and messaging apps, like WhatsApp and Instagram, are well known and used by adults, there’s an increasing group of apps and social media aimed directly at tweens and teens.

TikTok offers an outlet for creative self-expression through dance and comedy, but can leave young people open to harsh judgement, criticism and bullying. Newer apps like Yubo and Omegle have drawn concern over the ‘dating app’ model, pitched at kids, which leaves them open to strangers reaching out to connect with them on the app.

Boundaries and balance

“The most important thing is explaining to our children what the risks are in a safe way,” says psychologist Lydia Black, from teleheath provider PSYCH2U. “We don’t want them walking up to a complete stranger on the street and talking to them – it’s the same when you’re online.”

You can support your kids to find balance in their online activity by setting boundaries. Sometimes it’s not practical to ban your kids from using social media or even restrict screen time to the widely-recommended two hours a day – they live in a world where so much of what they do happens online, including socialising, connecting with family and studying or doing homework. But you can support them to use screens responsibly. Focus on the quality of their screen time, and whether it’s beneficial or unhealthy. Is the screen time overshadowing other activities, like getting outside and exercising, or spending time with family and friends?

“When we’re using the right resources and the right filters, the web is a wonderful place,” says Lydia. “It’s about asking – is this helping my child develop? Is this platform helping my child to feel good?”

When you have the discussion about online safety tips with your kids, here are some questions to think about:

  • Are they using the device or is it using them? Does your child go online to achieve a specific outcome? If they’re in control of their online activity and can set boundaries, they’re more likely to be making the most of their time rather than letting it control them.
  • Do they need a break?
  • Is your child ‘stuck’ on a certain game or app and returning to it all the time?
  • Are they scrolling aimlessly and spending hours online without a defined reason for being there?
  • Are they enjoying their screen time, or is it purely habitual?
  • Which sites does your child visit to get their information? Consider whether these sites are reputable and credible, and whether the information comes from a trusted source – for example, health information from medical experts or government or news sites producing quality journalism.

Taking time out

There are plenty of ways to help tweens and teens step away from their devices and take time out. If you build trust and respect around tech use in your house, you’ll discover what works best for your kids.

  1. Do a screen audit: a screen audit encourages everyone in the family to look at how long they’re spending on their devices and which sites are taking up most of their time and why.
  2. Draw up a family tech agreement: this might set rules about which apps kids can use and when, or it might set screen-free times like family mealtimes.
  3. Encourage non-screen activities: extra-curricular sport and music, picnics, hikes and special family and friends occasions can bring kids a sense of joy, purpose and meaning away from their online life.
  4. Put down your own phone: model good behaviour for your kids by showing them that you benefit from screen-free time, too. Studies have found a strong correlation between parent tech use and their kids’ screen time.

If you or your family need to find a doctor or hospital, or have questions about your health then call our 24/7 helpline on 13 68 42. Our friendly experts speak many different languages and are ready to assist you.

To hear more from Lydia Black about safe screen time and other modern parenting dilemas, download and listen to Season 3 of HCF’s Navigating Parenthood podcast, Imperfect Parents, hosted by Jessica Rowe.

Words by Susanna Nelson

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