With great computing power comes great responsibility, and although your preschooler is a digital native, born and raised in an online world, this doesn’t mean they naturally know how to stay safe in cyberspace.
As a parent, it’s your job to explain, guide and protect. Your preschooler needs to understand how a little tap of a touchscreen connects them to a wide world of opportunity – and risk.
Instead of focusing on online nasties, though, it’s best to build a positive relationship with digital devices and set your child up for safe cyber success.
1. Start by talking about safe screen use
From toddlerhood, you can take the mystery out of screens by explaining what you’re doing as you search, text and post, and inviting your tyke to ask questions and start to understand the online experience.
Putting a device on airline mode teaches them the difference between ‘online’ and ‘offline,’ and chats about ‘safe people’ (like Granny) and ‘personal data’ (like their name, age and address) help them understand who’s safe to talk with and what’s safe to share.
You also help your child make good online choices, and know quality content when they see it, by exploring content together and having two-way conversations about what’s to like and not like.
2. Model good screen habits
You are your child’s first teacher, so it’s crucial that you set a good example. This means modelling kindness and respect online, and praising your preschooler’s good behaviour (for example, when they take turns playing a game).
Instead of being on your device 24/7, make sure there are times and places when you’re device-free for them to see.
You also send a meaningful message about consent and data sharing by asking your child if it’s ok to take and post their pic.
3. Use screen safeguards
Parental controls and safe search settings are a practical way to keep devices age-appropriate, but even Google has bad days, so you’re best off keeping screen use where you can see it, in shared areas.
It helps to bookmark your child’s regular sites and kid-safe search engines, and you can also save their apps or programs in a named folder on a family device.
When it comes to supervision, a great rule of thumb is to explore all new content together. As your preschooler gets to know the app, game or show, you can step back a little, but stay nearby and keep the lines of communication open.
4. Set screen rules
It’s key that you set screen time limits and clear rules around device use and cyber safety.
The government recommends one hour or less of sedentary screen time a day for ages three to five, and a family tech agreement formalises safety rules in a fun way by covering:
- Safe device use
- Asking permission to use a device or new content
- Safe and kind online interactions
- Knowing when to ask for help, and
- Sticking to screen time limits.
Device-free mealtimes and bedtimes are a good habit for the whole family. And if a stranger gets in touch online, there’s a sudden pop-up, or something just feels ‘off,’ your child needs to know that you’re here to help.
The eSafety Early Years program is a go-to for advice and resources, and as your digital native delves deeper into the online space, make sure you go along for the ride – with good talks, positive practices and cybersafety in your family’s favourites.
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