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Is Santa bringing tech to your house this Christmas?

  • Written by online safety and cybersecurity expert, Wayne Denner

    From Xbox, iPhone and every device in between, tech will be on most Santa lists this year. 

    One thing many of these devices have in common is that they can connect to the Internet, so you can view and download content and access social media apps and platforms. 

    So whether the tech horse has bolted or not in your home, it’s always a good idea to do a little planning around devices. Safeguarding planning can go a long way towards helping support young people’s protection and mental health, now and in the future.

    If you’re reading this blog or watching our video you’ll know what we do – Keep parents,   teachers and young people up to date on Online Safety and Tech Education – through workshops, talks, training and useful information in our videos and blogs. Our aim is help keep you updated, empowered and informed.  As Parents ourselves we understand the challenges and difficulties when it comes to managing technology inside and outside the home.

    Start the right way

    Nearly a third of parents allow their children to use the internet without supervision or restrictions. And only 20% of parents talk regularly to their children about the dangers.

    Having an understanding of parental controls and safety settings within devices, apps and games can help parents set these up correctly the first time around.  Many children and teenagers use devices of their own and others within the home which don’t have any parental controls enabled. 

    A good place to start is to have a think about the parental control settings you’d like to put in place on the particular device and then get them set up before Christmas Day.  Highly recommended Dads and Mums, unless you’d like to spend Christmas Day setting up gaming consoles, phones, ipads etc.  I prefer TV and a sleep after Christmas dinner.  

    Either way once the device is activated and set up – this is the time to agree rules/boundaries/contracts with your child or teenager.  Be honest, tell them you need to know the password at all times or you’ll remove the phone/device. And that you can spot check at any time.  Then just like watching a film together, browse the internet together, you’ll get to know more about their interests and having fun this way may take the sting out of the conditions. Try to influence their friends parents positively too. And find out what rules they have in place.  Most parents strive to ensure their children are always safe.  If a friends house has no rules, unfortunately that’s an unsafe environment for young kids.  Simple as.

    Broadband and Wifi in the Home

    In the UK the main mobile providers (Vodafone, EE, 02 and Three) automatically block 18+ rated content. But - and there is always a BUT – young people can get past this with a VPN (Virtual Private Network). VPN’s circumvent the restrictions on their device so the blocking won't be effective, meaning content that would otherwise be restricted or blocked could be accessed.  The teenager may only want to access certain music videos which are restricted to 18’s but it’s worth taking note and staying aware of what the most common VPN  icons look like.

    Your current broadband provider may offer built in parental controls. This helps with filtering or monitoring what’s in use and being accessed while the user is using the broadband or Wifi. It’s also important to remember if a device is being used outside of the home via 3G or 4G then the Parental controls which your broadband provider provides may not work. So you’ll need to consider a Parental Control that works on all your devices, inside and outside the home.  These are not overpriced but they’re not free.

    Gaming Consoles

    PS4 and Xbox offer Parental controls which allow parents to manage and restrict access to content and games which are age appropriate.  At first – when you look into parental controls on gaming consoles these may seem difficult to navigate and set up. Don’t panic – we’ve created a handy blog post on how to set them up on popular gaming consoles. Click here.

    Also keep an eye on the PEGI Games ratings. Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto whatever versions they are, are 18+ there’s really no reason why a 10 year old should be playing these types of games. Unless you want him to grow up really fast.

    Screen Time Boundaries

    Having basic screen time boundaries in place is key.  It helps limit the time which is being spent playing games, accessing social media and using the Internet.  Screen time can get a bad press. But it’s excessive screen time that does the damage.  Making good choices about what they’re watching is also crucial.   

    Going online is fun and a daily essential these days, we all enjoy it. But balance is also essential.  Ofcom reported recently that some children enjoy watching others partake in activities so much on YouTube that they no longer took part in those activities themselves!

    Regardless of which report you read, children and teenagers spend A LOT of time online:

    e.g.

    Commonsense Media (2019)

    8-12 yrs  – 6 hrs a day

    Teenagers – 9 hrs a day

    Ofcom (2019)

    Children (5-15 yrs) 2 hrs 11 mins

    Sleep Time

    61% of children aged 12-15 are allowed to take their tablet to bed.

    71% of children aged 12-15 are allowed to take their phone to bed.

    (Ofcom Feb 2019)

     A cut off point at night is important.   There is no reason why children and even young teenagers should have their phone in the bedroom. Anyone can talk to them then in privacy and you cant supervise it there – good controls help of course. Even then teachers tell us routinely that many young people including young children are getting up in the middle of the night to game, watch music videos or check/scroll social media and YouTube. They arrive at school, exhausted and unable to concentrate.

    As a rule of thumb, any high stimulation activities such as gaming, video, social media or YouTube should be finished at least an hour before bedtime to give them a chance to wind down.

    Considering a 'No Devices' approach at meal times is really important for screen balance; and that means everyone mum and dad. Even granny can leave her Facebook scrolling until after Christmas dinner – and every dinner.  Check out Will Ferrell's antics on device free dinners. Don’t be like Will!

    Hope these tips are helpful and that you have a fantastic Christmas and New Year!

    Best wishes, and stay safe online!

    To find out more about Wayne and his work, visit his site here.

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