April 20 2020

Online parenting in 2020; living with COVID-19

The Child Abuse and Trauma Studies Centre (CATS) at Middlesex University highlights the importance around online safety for children during the COVID-19 crisis.

We are facing a global pandemic that stopped the world in its tracks and changed the face of working, socialising and educating, before we had chance to catch our breath.

We have had no time to pause as we’re too busy adapting whilst running.

We have had to keep the economy moving, our children’s education going, our health and the health of others paramount. We’re all learning to ride in a new online terrain together, at the same time, regardless of our prior experience to operating remotely, and amongst all of the chaos we need to remind ourselves of how to stay safe.

Not just from COVID-19 but from those who would wish us, and our families harm online, and the vulnerabilities our children pose to themselves as their online social interaction intensifies.

Black and white close up of hands typing on a laptop

Working from home and being parents

Since COVID-19 has forced all of us into lockdown, most people working from home face a number of challenges to perform as efficiently and effectively as they did before.

In the US, as more people are working from home, more artificial intelligence is utilised to moderate content during the Cononavirus crisis.

This may well mean that children have unfettered access to social media sites, chat rooms, dating sites, violent online gaming platforms, pornography and the Dark Web, then ever before.

Do four things well

There has never been more urgency for parents to have frank conversations with their children on online risks. So it is important that we learn how to do four things well:

  1. Understand what our children are accessing online
  2. Learn how to turn on privacy settings to protect our children’s online content and the communications they receive
  3. Begin to have difficult conversations with our children about being safe online, including safety from sexual predators
  4. Observe our children behaviour, monitor if there are any changes in their personalities and try your best to discuss with them the reasons behind these changes.

Whilst sites will stipulate the age regulations for access there is no way of accurately protecting them. Within these sites, children are blindly stumbling across content or being exposed to it by their peers.

Exposure to violent, sexual content in pornography may have the potential to cause long term emotional, mental health implications, as well as an unhealthy perception of positive sexual behaviours towards others.

Most common social media being used

Facebook

The world’s largest social media site in which its member have their own profile page and can interact with friends, family members and meet new people online.

Images, videos, thoughts and actions are published for all to see. You can private message as well as publish messages publicly. You can determine your own level of privacy settings and parental controls.

Made famous by the MTV show, Catfishing has presented a new problem in which people are stealing the images of others for the purpose of creating a false identity online to engage with others. Also known as sock-puppeting. This process is also used by cyberbullies and sex offenders.

Instagram

This is a photo-sharing app which also has the capacity to private message. All accounts are open unless they are deliberately made private by the account holder.

Fake Instagram accounts called Finsta accounts, are often created by teens without the knowledge of their parents. You can activate the parent controls to prevent strangers from contacting your child and there are easy solutions to tackle any harassment or cyberbullying.

Recent changes have been made to hide likes, restrict targeted ads, screen for words synonymous with cyberbullying, and the ability to restrict comments.

Snapchat

This app allows people to send brief images to others before they “self-destruct” once the time limit has expired.

It encourages the sense of zero consequence messaging with children often sending inappropriate content, such as ‘nudes’, ‘sexual messages’ or abusive content. This is a misplaced belief as recipients can screen shot what they have been sent or saved by using external apps.

Fortunately, there are parental controls which can place limitations on who can contact your child as well as who can view their messages.

YouTube

This a video sharing platform for both self-made and re-distributed videos. Everyone is able to use this app to watch the videos of others and upload videos of their own, like and dislike videos, and leave comments.

YouTube has recently received a negative backlash from parents and the FTC for tracking children’s data, resulting in serious changes being made towards targeted adverts and the disabling of online comments.

WhatsApp

An encrypted messaging app where text, images and videos can be shared for free. Popular for its ability to share an unlimited number of messages and videos, and the ability to conduct group chat with over 250 people at once.

Kik

(17+) This is a free messaging service similar to WhatsApp except you don’t need to provide a phone number to register.

In addition to this, the app has no age verification, no parental controls, and no way of validating who you are talking too; making it difficult to police engagement with strangers.

TikTok

This app allows users to create and share videos. Some of the videos are unsuitable for young children and the videos from this site are often shared to other social media apps such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.

Their minimum age is listed as 13+ but no verification is used and there is no way of confirming identity or age. It’s not possible to authenticate users and private messaging is available. All accounts are made public but there are parental controls which can be enabled.

Whisper

This is a secret sharing app in which its users can make amusing or disturbing confessions about themselves. This app is designed for older teens and adults yet there is no way of restricting children from downloading it onto their devices.

Concerning elements to this app is its ability for others to determine your precise location without even having a geo-location setting enabled, and the basis of this app is for people to private message others, send images, videos, and information all anonymously. Exposing children to highly inappropriate content, explicit language and the high risk of cyberbullying.

Discord

Originally used by gamers during game play as a voice and text chatting app, it has more than 100 million subscribers.

Discord offers servers focused on specific topics such as sports teams or to connect fans.

Ask.fm

This app allows children to anonymously ask, give and get answers to questions they have.

Due to the anonymous nature of the app it provides an opportunity for cyberbullies to target others online.

VSCO

This is another image sharing app

Google Hangout

Children often use Google Docs for homework but very few know that it is possible to create a Google Hangout between peers. There is a high number of reported incidents of cyberbullying using this app.

Dating apps

  • Tinder
  • Plenty of Fish
  • Bumble
  • Grindr
  • Zoosk
  • Match
  • Hinge
  • Facebook Dating
  • Happn

Establishing a greater sense of Parental Control

There are now social media parenting control apps which allow you to monitor you child’s social media behaviour from your own device. Such apps are Kidbridge and Qustodio.

It’s important to establish family media rules such as asking permission before downloading an app. You can also consider a device charging zone so you can check devices. Speak to you child and explain that you will be checking their phone, asking them questions regarding their usage

Setting up Privacy Settings and Parental Controls for ALL apps on your children’s devices can also ensure they’re staying safe online.

Teaching your child about internet safety is important and that discussion needs to include conversations about what apps are appropriate and how their behaviour affects others and the permanence of their actions online.

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