Technology and digital devices are now part of the vast majority of Irish homes and children at a younger and younger age are exposed to technology in all its forms. In the research for our most recent All Ireland Digital Trend Report we discovered that children as young as five had access to a digital device. So what is the message from this? It really is never too early to learn about staying safe online!

As parents and/or teachers it is never too early to start teaching the message of staying safe online. One of our aims at Zeeko is to ensure that the internet safety message becomes as common as teaching your child how to cross the road, or not to talk to strangers. Technology can of course be a fantastic tool for learning and this can be many children’s first introduction to the internet. Usually very young children are supervised when using technology, but it is as they grow older, become more familiar with digital devices and are affected by peer pressure that the conversations you have had with your child about staying safe online will really have an impact.

One very important thing to remember is to start a conversation about staying safe online at the earliest possible age with your child, having one over dinner for example so that it becomes a normal part of your family life may be a good way to start. At Zeeko we promote the concepts of open communication and active mediation and starting both of these at the earliest possible age will certainly reap rewards as your child grows older. One of the biggest challenges when children begin to experience using the internet is trying to manage the divide between what happens online and what happens in the real world. It is a good idea to regularly discuss with your child that they should behave the same way they do when they are online as they do when they are not. This is of particular importance when it comes to dealing with any unwanted contact they may receive when they are online. Encourage them to remember the Stop, Block, Tell Rule as soon as they receive any contact from someone they don’t know. Even with safety settings in place on the digital devices in your home, they are not 100% secure, but are a step in the right direction.

Also, if your child sees that you have a balanced approach to being online, they are likely to have a balanced approach to it too. This can be particularly effective when it comes to things like the use of smartphones and screentime. Particularly as your child grows older they are bound to point out to you the ambiguity of you asking them to reduce their screentime is you are regularly on screens yourself!

Helping your child to make smart decisions when they are online is the best you can ask for. Open communication, active mediation and good role modelling are a great start.