With so much of our time spent on devices, it has never been more important for parents to maintain a strong and positive connection with their children offline.
Centacare counsellors say being engaged, open and supportive is one of the best ways to give young people the confidence to make good decisions online and seek help when they need it.
”We can’t influence them if we are irrelevant in their life,’’ said Annette Flanagan, Family Relationships Counsellor.
”As a parent or carer, you’re a safe haven and a secure base for your kids, and we must be the same thing for them around this issue.
”It comes down to simple moments: being there for them and with them when you can; having things you like to do together; filling that bucket of relationship for the days when they withdraw from it.
”If you have that strong relationship, and they are coming to you when things go wrong, that’s the best we can hope for in many ways.”
Annette said it is important to keep lines of communication open, including talking to young people about their online experiences, the platforms they are on and how different apps work.
”It is important to be a part of their virtual worlds when we can, perhaps even paying online games with them at times,” she said.
Annette warns this should not be at the expense of setting boundaries and expectations around online activity and social media, as difficult as they are to enforce.
”Time online shouldn’t just be assumed as a given,’’ she said. “Some parents find it helpful to use media as a privilege children can have after they help about the house or spend time outside.
“Parents fear if they have too many boundaries they’ll lose connection with their child, but they should not be scared to parent this issue as they do any other.
“It is so much a part of young people’s lives, and it will be for a long time, so we must help them navigate it safely – not just from a punitive point of view but by taking an understanding and scaffolding approach.
“As humans, we are wired to connect, but if that only happens online there can be ramifications socially for young people.”
Annette said online activity, and the impact this has on family relationships, is among the most common challenges facing clients.
“Parents are often at a loss about what to do,’’ she said.
“I try and say to put it in perspective of any parenting decision they make because there are no hard and fast rules about things – what I do in my house might be different to your house – but think about it, be consistent and trust yourself.’’
*Online safety is a national focus this week, with Safer Internet Day bringing together communities, families, schools and organisations to encourage everyone to Connect. Reflect. Protect. The eSafetyCommissioner
Picture: Priscilla Du Preez