Online safety / February 02, 2023

Keeping kids safe online: the rules and responsibilities that come with smartphone ownership

Nimmi Kanji

Nimmi Kanji

Director - Social Purpose Programs, For Good and TELUS Wise

Teenage boy using mobile phone on a sofa while his mother is taking a phone call

The digital world is changing every day and navigating those changes can be overwhelming. Safer Internet Day serves as a reminder to engage your child in a discussion about online safety and help them understand that access to a smartphone, tablet, or connected device is a privilege that comes with rules and responsibilities.

Most parents with school-aged children have at least some expectations around appropriate technology use in their household, but many of us are still left with concerns about our children’s digital lives. What are they doing online? What kind of content are they seeing? Who are they connecting with? Are they online too much? Ongoing conversations about their lives online can help us be more informed and put our concerns at ease. It can also be powerful to have concrete and well-defined rules in place for tech use at home, in much the same way there are rules in place to govern tech use at school.

If you’re concerned that the rules will go in one ear and out the other, rest assured that household rules about tech can and do make a difference. According to research by MediaSmarts, children who have household rules about technology and Internet use are less likely to engage in potentially harmful online activities such as looking at pornography and talking to strangers, as examples.

Not sure where to start? Some parents turn to Parental Control Solutions to help them ensure their children’s experience with technology is positive. Most effective if introduced when children are at an early age, these solutions help you filter out unsafe or inappropriate content, control your child’s usage of the device or specific apps at certain times of the day or week, and monitor your child’s activities online. Apple and Google offer free Parental Control Solutions to keep your family safe online. Remember these solutions are not fool proof and doesn’t replace open dialogue.

To encourage ongoing dialogue with your child about internet safety, consider a technology contract. We’ve recently updated our TELUS Wise smartphone and technology contract and encourage you to review and sign it with your child. Not only does the contract set rules for the child, it also holds parents accountable with their own set of rules! You’ll notice that the contract is applicable to smartphones and other connected devices. Once you’ve discussed and signed the contract, post it in a central area in your home, like on the refrigerator. This way, it is seen often and can serve as a daily reminder, allowing parents and children to hold each other accountable to the responsibilities associated with owning or having access to technology.

If you would prefer to create your own set of tech rules for the family, consider conduct, content and access:

  1. Conduct: what expectations do you have for your child as it pertains to their technology use? Consider setting rules about the need for them to respect themselves and others online; this may include being kind to others, being mindful about the language they use, and thinking carefully before saying, doing or posting anything online. Talk to your child about how the choices they make online can have very real consequences for themselves and others.
  2. Content: what content can your child engage with online? Do they need to seek your permission before downloading a new game or app? What types of websites are off-limits? Are they allowed to use social media? Depending on the age of your child, the exact rules may vary, but be sure to think about how you can help foster an environment where your child will have a safe and positive online experience.
  3. Access: where and when can your child use their device and other technology? You may wish to set rules about where specifically they’re allowed to use their device - for instance, in a common area in the house - and where they’re not allowed - for example, in their bedroom or at the dinner table. Additionally, how much time will you allow? Managing screen time is no easy feat and the rules may need to differ based on the age of your child and the type of online activity they’re engaging in. Read this article to learn more about screen time guidelines from the Canadian Paediatric Society.

Beyond the rules, if you want to make learning about digital citizenship fun for your family, check out our new TELUS Wise Kahoot! channel for access to interactive, fast-paced games that can help your children learn about online safety, privacy and security, digital wellness, and more.

Download the TELUS Wise smartphone and technology contract

Play Kahoot! with the children in your life today

Tags:
Screen time
Smartphones
Kids & tech
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