Technology can be fun, educational and useful. Lots of kids use phones and computers to help with homework, download music, play games and chat with friends. But online activity can sometimes lead to unpleasant experiences, either because of another person’s actions, or simply because of kids’ own mistakes or misguided behaviour.
Kids, phones and the internet
Teaching kids how to look after their phone
If a child or young person in your care wants a mobile phone, talk to your caseworker first to make sure there are no safety concerns around contact that may prevent them from having one.
If there aren’t any safety concerns, consider if you think they’re old enough and responsible enough to have a mobile phone. Many kids are given a phone when they start to practise responsibility and independence by getting themselves to and from school. This commonly happens towards the end of primary school or the beginning of high school.
Talk about looking after the phone (always keep the case on!) and what will happen if the phone is lost or the screen smashed. If you decide to give the child or young person a phone, the cost should be covered by the Care Allowance.
It’s important to have a conversation about the ongoing costs of phone calls, data use, online shopping, and in-app purchases. One way to limit the amount of money spent on calls and data is to get pre-paid phone cards for kids. Lawstuff, a website run by the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre, has some great information about phone plans and contracts presented in a way that kids and young people can understand.
Go to schoolatoz.nsw.edu.au/technology, run by the Department of Education, for reliable information on how gadgets work, their benefits and their potential dangers.
Teaching kids how to stay safe online
The internet can be a great educational resource or just a good source of entertainment for kids. But it is also a place where they can get caught up in mistakes or misbehaviour. Talk to your child or young person about how to act safely and responsibly online:
- Help kids think ahead. It can be difficult for kids to understand that anything they post can be easily shared and could hang around the internet for decades to come. The general rule is that you should only post something if you are happy for anyone and everyone to see it.
- Teach kids to value privacy. Tell them never to share their full name, home address, school address, current location or phone number. Explain that reputable people and businesses won’t request that information, so if someone is asking for it, they should let you know. Let them know their safety is important to you and that’s why you want to check the privacy settings of anything they download or sign up for. Choose strict privacy settings and make sure location sharing is turned off.
- Consider parental control software. You can get software that limits what sort of content your child can see, or the times when they can use their device. If you decide to use parental control software, let your child know so that they don’t feel tricked or mistrusted.
- In the early years, be very actively involved when your child is online. Talk about how to use the internet safely, insist that devices are used in public areas of the house, and perhaps consider using settings or software that limit what your child can do online.
- As your child gets older, pull back a bit. Keep up the conversations about what they’re doing online, but don’t undermine your older teen’s privacy by demanding passwords, logging on to their devices or using software to track their activity unless you have real concerns for their safety. It’s better to make it clear what your values and expectations are, and ensure that your teen knows they.
- Don’t put up with cyber bullies. If your child is “cyber-bullied” by friends or anonymous users, encourage them to ignore the bullying and delete or block the bullies so they no longer see their messages.