Websites, apps and social media mirror and reflect the lives of young people, but they may also have a deep impact on their personal experiences so how can we be keeping children safe online.

The digital age has changed the way people of all ages communicate with both positive and negative connotations. Social media has the potential to bring people closer when they are far away, but sadly it can also separate us from those who are physically close.
 
Dr Maite Ferrin, Consultant Psychiatrist at ReCognition Health believes that parents and carers have a responsibility for educating their own children,  showing them the positive and negative aspects behind social media as well as being able to understand fact from fiction and reality from enhanced. ‘Young people can show off their incredible, amazing (and often fake) lives on social media, often using filters to enhance their photos. Named as “generation like”, young people are validating their status and popularity by the number of “likes” they get on social media.’
 
Young people can gain support from others, feel more included and develop their own identity as part of a social media group. However, the internet can also promote bullying and facilitate an immediate dissemination of gossip and false rumours; all of which can have a devastating effect on young people´s self-esteem. ‘People can use social media as a wall to hide behind, finding it easier to comment negatively online than face to face. Social media has the ability to change the way young people perceive themselves and the world around them, so it’s important for parents to take an active role in the internet activity to help support, guide and protect them through the digital landscape,’ adds Dr Ferrin.
 
Dr Maite Ferrin, is renowned internationally for her work in treating children and young people. Below she shares her tips on how to help protect children online:
 

Keeping Children Safe online

Top Tips for keeping children safe online
 
1) Talk it Over

Parents need to have open conversations with their children about safe internet use, constantly educating them about the dangers of misuse. Children need to feel comfortable speaking to parents about their online and offline experiences, rather than feeling like they have to hide.
 
2) Ensure Safety

Parents need to be aware of the risks that the internet poses on young people and especially those who are more vulnerable. Children can interact with adults and expose themselves to emotional and sexual abuse. If there are any signs or concern, parents should immediately contact child services and/or the police to report their own safeguarding concerns. Children should be taught to never give away their personal information such as name, address, age, phone number or school this is one of the best firm of keeping children safe online
 
3) Set Boundaries

Review and agree a list of websites your child is permitted to visit; explaining it is for their own safety. Ensure you checking minimum age limits and monitor their web activity on a regular basis.
 
4) Be involved

Be open and honest with your child, letting them know that you will be checking their online activity. By taking an active interest in their online activity, talking about their favourite websites, online friends and videos, you will be more engaged. In addition you will also be more aware of the risks that your child is being exposed to.
 
5) Communication is Key

Good communication with your children will help reduce the risks of serious incidents online. Those children who have good self-esteem and a solid social network outside the internet are more protected and usually expose themselves less than those who struggle in having social relationships outside the internet. As parents we can improve our children’s social skills by finding activities after school for them. Parents can also make their own children better critics of what they observe on social media; not everything that is shown is real, and not everything that happens in our lives has to be shown on line.
 
6) Time is Up

Set time limits for online activity, whether social media, websites, games consoles or videos. Boundaries should be set and enforced, to help avoid addiction and to safeguard against misuse.
 
7) Digital Detox

Set an example to your children by unplugging. Regularly dedicate device-free time to encourage conversation and maintain close relationships without distraction.
 
8) Don’t Prohibit

As parents we can´t protect our children from all the risks in life, but we can minimise the risks. It is inevitable that our children will eventually suffer a bad experience at some point, but try to use each negative experience as a lesson rather than criticise or punish your child. Prohibiting internet use may have a consequential negative impact on their self-esteem and social lives, so it’s advisable to restrict rather than prohibit (which may also encourage children to hide their activity).   
 
9) What to do if your child has a bad online experience

The younger the child, the bigger the impact of a negative experience will be. Further, the younger the child (or the more vulnerable) the higher the risks as they won’t be able to manage the risks appropriately. Younger and vulnerable children generally need higher levels of supervision and protection from adults.

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