Barnardo’s UK recently released a Report called ‘Left to their own Devices’ which explored the use of social media by Barnardo’s youngest clients. Their insights indicate some children start looking at social media as early as two-years-old. Half of service practitioners responding said they had worked with children aged five to 10 who had been exposed to unsuitable or harmful materials online, and more than one third said children in that age group had been victims of cyberbullying.

When it comes to 11 to 15 year olds, almost 8 in 10 (79%) practitioners said children they work with have experienced cyberbullying and 58% in the 16+ age group which has led to self-harm and suicide attempts.

Reading these statistics can be overwhelming for parents, in particular when they are trying to guide their kids in the right direction when it comes to the use of social media and indeed technology in general. So, what can you do to help your child to stay safe when it comes to spending time online and also how and when kids use technology?

Here are some tips to help you get a conversation on staying safe where technology is concerned.

It may sound like very simple advice but talk to your child as much as possible about how important it is to stay safe when they are online. It is never too early to start this conversation. The internet is undoubtedly a fantastic resource, but kids do need to be aware that they should be conscious of who they are interacting with and what they are sharing when they are online. If children are used to hearing and participating in regular conversations about the internet at home, then they will certainly be better equipped to stay safe when they are online.

Encourage and promote a balanced approach to the use of technology:

Managing something like the amount of time that your children spend on screens can be a challenge. Encourage them to have a healthy balance in their use of technology and the time they spend online. Remind them, through example, of the importance of face to face interaction with their family and friends. Promote regular family activities that don’t involve a screen! It’s totally natural that if your child received a new smartphone, iPad or Tablet for Christmas they will want to spend as much time as possible enjoying and exploring their new gift. Setting boundaries early on about the amount of time that they can spend using technology is a good first step in promoting balance.

No safety setting is a substitute for education:

As we regularly say at Zeeko while safety settings on digital devices, are a very necessary and important step where keeping your child safe is concerned, they are never 100% secure. The best way your child can stay safe is by having the knowledge through education, to make smart choices when they are online. To be conscious of what they are sharing and with who. When we visit schools throughout the country to talk about staying safe online we reinforce the importance of knowing what to do if something unpleasant happens when they are online. Linking in with an adult they trust, usually a parent to talk about what they have encountered online is crucial. With teens the approach is slightly different. We encourage them to remember the importance of behaving the same way they do when they are online as they do when they are offline. In other words, exercising the same degree of caution that they would in the real world as they do in the virtual online world.

No matter what it is really important that kids feel empowered to make smart choices about what they are doing when they use technology and spend time online. By having an open communication style and keeping a conversation about online safety as a regular part of daily life you are doing something very positive to help your child be a savvy tech user.