Experts share advice on keeping kids ‘safe, happy and well’ online

1 March 2017

Over 150 people gathered at Sydney’s Town Hall last night (28 February) to learn how to assist young people to stay safe and well as they use digital technologies.

The public forum, called Growing Up Digital, was organised by the NSW Mental Health Commission and chaired by digital journalist and founder of the Mamamia Women’s Network, Mia Freedman. 

Panellist Jonathan Nicholas, CEO of youth mental health service Reachout.com and father of three boys, said parents should focus less on keeping up with ever-changing technologies and apps and more on keeping lines of communication open with their kids.    

“If you notice a change in behaviour, let them know and ask an open question. Say ‘I’ve noticed things have been different lately, is everything ok?’ The worst that will happen is that the young person will know someone cares about them and they are loved,” Mr Nicholas said.

He also emphasised that parents’ priorities are to ensure their children are safe, happy and well – in that order.

“It means that when they were a toddler, you held their hand to cross the road, even if they were screaming and crying. As they get older it means you can say to them you’re willing to sacrifice a little of their happiness if it means they are safe online.”

Fellow panellist Samantha Yorke, director of public policy at Google and mother of one, explained features on Google and Youtube that parents can use to help them screen out inappropriate content. These included Google Safe Search and YouTube restricted mode, as well as YouTube Kids, a video search engine designed specifically with children in mind.

Ms Yorke explained she currently shares an Instagram account with her son as a means of helping introduce him to the world of social media safely.

“He doesn’t have his own mobile phone yet but some of his friends do. I don’t have a line in the sand about when he will be able to have one, it’s an ongoing conversation with my husband where we keep asking, ‘Is it time?’”

Mia Freedman, who has three children, encouraged parents to try out the new technologies and apps their kids are using rather than avoid them.

“Nothing puffs a kid’s chest out more than being able to show Mum how to use some new technology. Some of my fondest memories are watching my kids teach my parents how to set up an Instagram account or send a Snapchat,” Ms Freedman said.

Other tips from the evening included:

  • Focus on outcomes, not inputs – worry less about screen time, social media use, mobile phone use, etc. (inputs) and more about whether your child is happy and well (outcome)
  • Encourage kids to use the ‘grandma rule’ – if they wouldn’t show content to grandma, then they shouldn’t post it online
  • Try using non-confrontational conversation methods – such as talking in the car or texting
  • Avoid using mental health language – rather than asking if kids are feeling depressed or anxious, use the language they use such as ‘I’m feeling really stressed by exams’
  • Remember that kids don’t distinguish between the ‘online world’ and the ‘real world’ – they see them as one and the same

For a list of useful resources mentioned during the event, please download this attachment: PDF icon Growing Up Digital - List of useful resources.pdf

Watch this 20 minute video that captures highlights from the event:

Watch this 3 minute video to hear why attendees came to the event and what they learnt:

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Last updated: 2 May 2017

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