Is the Internet Harming Your Kids?

Without a doubt, technology has changed our children’s lives. The emergency of things like the internet, smart phones and social media has dramatically altered their childhood from the childhood we knew when growing up. Things we as parents didn’t worry or think about as children are now front and centre when it comes to raising our own children. Why the worry?

According to a MediaSmarts survey, “Young Canadians in a Wired World”, nearly all Canadian children are going online. In fact, of all students surveyed, 99 percent responded that they have access to the internet outside of school and across a variety of devices. Twenty-four percent of Grade 4 students own a cell phone or smart phone while more than half of Grade 7 students and 85 percent of students in Grade 11 have them. What’s more, the survey found that more than half of students in Grade 11 report sleeping with their phones in case they get a call or text at night.

While technology and the internet can be a great thing, the current trend is often alarming to parents and experts alike. They worry about the adverse impact the extensive use of the internet might be having on our children. Challenges include everything from cyberbullying and posting or viewing inappropriate content to a reduction in attention spans and even increased rates of depression.

It makes sense: the more time kids spend texting one another, they less time they’re spending developing social skills, participating in extra-curricular activities and even sleeping. On top of it all, their brains haven’t fully developed enough to understand that what they post now can have short and long-term consequences. What they might think is an innocent mistake can cost them a job in future or even make them a dangerous target for predators. It all adds up to a big concern: is the internet harming our kids?

It doesn’t have to. There are things parents can do to ensure their children are using technology in a way that is empowering. We can ensure our kids are accessing the internet in responsible and appropriate ways.

Talk about it. The first thing parents can do is have an open discussion with your children. Let them know the advantages as well as the dangers of going online.

Advantages can include researching a project, communicating with friends and even having fun by playing video games online.

​There are many dangers. Some of these can include using social media at the expense of other activities or not considering the consequences of posting inappropriate photos or comments on social media. Talk to your child about these dangers so they are aware. Ask them how they intend to use the internet, how often is appropriate, and what sites are safe vs unsafe.

Set the rules. The MediaSmarts survey showed that household rules have a major and advantageous impact on childrens’ online behaviour. It has been shown to reduce risky behaviour like posting contact information, visiting gambling or pornographic sites and talking to strangers online.

​It’s up to you as parents to decide when your child can get a phone, where they can keep the phone, how often they can use it and what sites they can visit. You might consider allowing your child to have an email address but holding off on a Facebook account or Twitter until they are older, more mature or understand how to use it responsibly.

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​Check these social media sites to see what they recommend and if there are any age limits. You might allow your child to use their phone once their homework is complete, but decide there are certain times that will be cell phone free. You might want to all take a break during dinner or family time and set an example yourself. You might also restrict the use of phones when homework is being done and when it’s time for bed, as the phone can be a distraction from concentrating and resting.

Monitor behaviour and use controls. Numerous parents like to check in on their children’s social media use. They might regularly visit their child’s Facebook page or see what they’re posting on Instagram. Let your child know you’ll be watching so they understand there are limits to how they use the internet.

​You can also change the control settings on devices to block your child from accessing certain sites or even using their devices at certain times. Often, these controls can be found in your Settings and are easy to apply and change as your child gets older.

Let your child know they can talk to you if they have questions or concerns about using the internet and social media safely and responsibly. The internet can hurt children, but it doesn’t have to.