From about the age of 9 or 10, I spent most of my school holidays at home with my brother. Mum and Dad were at work and we had the run of the house. My brother spent pretty much every day of the school holidays on the family computer (we only had one for the family from a young age until I moved out). He played Command & Conquer and Diablo and Starcraft. He downloaded songs from Napster. We only had dial-up internet and so our ability to look at inappropriate content was pretty minimal. And only one of us could use it at a time.
It might not be that long ago that we were home alone by ourselves during the holidays but the times have certainly changed. We’ve got internet at speeds that were unimaginable 15 years ago. We’ve got devices that lived only in the realm of sci-fi 15 years ago. The internet is filled with all manner of content that can be viewed anonymously and freely. And our kids are more tech-savvy than most of us ever were.
So, do you have a plan for technology in your homes these holidays? What devices can your children use unsupervised? When can they use them? Will they have free reign of Netflix? YouTube? Social Media? How much screen time are they allowed each day?
If you’re a parent and regularly leave your kids at home by themselves over the holidays, it would be really wise to have a plan to set boundaries about what your kids are able to do and what they are allowed to do. Without this, you allow your children free and full access to all kinds of material.
You might think: “My kids wouldn’t look at that stuff!” In fact, many parents think along that line and are then shocked to discover their child is regularly viewing porn. But when you consider how widespread porn use is among young people these days, it shouldn’t be that surprising. If they’re in high school they’ve most likely seen porn (at least inadvertently), and many of them are watching it several times each week.
Considering how easy it is to access porn online these days, and how many devices we have in our homes, our kids need help navigating this world.
So firstly, what are your kids able to do? That is, are you protecting them from the vast range of harmful material that is available online? Have you got some sort of filtering set up at home? OpenDNS is a great option for this. You may want to set up Google safe search so that your child won’t inadvertently get some adult images when searching for pictures or videos of cats! You may want to look at the parental and safety settings for each of your devices. Do you have passwords for the Netflix accounts with clear settings established for your kids? We need to ensure our kids are protected from adult content.
Secondly, what are your kids allowed to do? This question is one for parents to decide for themselves. But it would be worthwhile considering what technology you’ll allow your children to use and for how long. Be mindful of too much screen time over the holidays. Be mindful of teenagers spending hours alone in their rooms with their devices. Consider what content they are allowed to watch on Netflix or YouTube.
Lastly, make sure you’re talking to your kids about the fun and dangers that are lurking online. Encourage them to talk to you when they see something adult online. Talk to them about the boundaries you establish. Work with them but make sure you have the final say.
The internet is a wonderful thing. But it’s also dangerous. Like many good things (words, food, wine, cars) it can be used for our joy and good or it can be used for our harm. And sometimes we are naive as to what is out there and what our kids are looking at. No parent wants to put their children in a situation where they can be harmed. No decent parent would take their child to an adult sex shop or brothel. But we need to realise that when we have no boundaries around technology we are allowing our children free access to unlimited pornographic material. We wouldn’t do that in the physical world, so why would we in the digital world?
If you want more on the nitty gritty of setting up something of these boundaries at home, check out the ‘for parents’ page. It will give you all the info you need to help protect your kids so that they enjoy technology safely.