Your child asks you if they can get Whisper, Sarahah, or *insert name of latest social media / game craze / app here*. Your child seems to know much more about it than you do and you’re worried. What do you do?

1.Find out what your child knows

Ask them what it is – is it a game? Does it have a social aspect?  What is the attraction? How do their friends use it? What does it cost?

2. Go on a fact-finding mission together.

Ask yourselves “what can we find out?” This way, you’ll be approaching the issue from the same perspective, rather than starting from opposing sides.

By being alongside your child rather than confronting them head-on, you become a team on a journey of discovery rather than teacher (or preacher) and (potentially unwilling) pupil. Not only is this a bonding opportunity, but it also means that you don’t need to have all the answers (cue collective parental sigh of relief…).

3. See what the internet has to say

This is a great way for you both to hone your online research skills, ask the right questions and get answers.

It’s also a chance to chat about which websites are trustworthy and how to recognise them. Common Sense Media is a brilliant resource for the low-down on apps, games and online media, including parent reviews. Also try NSPCC’s Net Aware. Alternatively, search for “safety concerns”, “safety tips” or “how kids use” for the specific app or game you are looking at.

Encourage your child to do the searching themselves and note down any advice / concerns they discover as they go.

4. Ask an ‘expert’

Go offline and talk to someone reliable who is familiar with the platform – this might be an older child you know (babysitter, older sibling), or another parent with previous experience. Ask them to chat you and your child through key dos and don’ts for the platform.

5. Draw up a set of UGGs (User Generated Guidelines)

When you’ve finished gathering info encourage your child to come up with their own guidelines to deal with the issues/concerns you have surfaced. You can make modifications or other suggestions but negotiate these gently with a “how about…” rather than imposing them. If they aren’t happy with your ideas, prompt them to come up with their own alternatives. The key thing is for your child to understand the reasoning and accept the UGGs as their own.

CASE STUDY: Getting going with Pokemon Go!

When my son, age 8, came home from school desperate for Pokemon Go! (recommended age 13, “but ALL my friends are on it!”). What to do?

We used this approach, working together to identify the main issues and potential risks. He then came up with ideas to avoid each issue. I came up with some suggestions (e.g. the privacy ones), and between us we negotiated these guidelines:

Issue/concern Guideline
Wanting to play it all the time/getting obsessed. Only play for 20 minutes twice a week when I’ve done all my homework/jobs. Don’t nag for any more time than this.
Getting distracted/not paying attention to the world around you. Don’t walk around staring at the phone. Lose time playing if I get too distracted by the game (like not answering someone when they speak to me).
Mum might need her phone back. If mum needs her phone back, give it back straight away without getting moody. Lose time playing if I get grumpy when it’s time to stop.
Being sent to unsafe places. Don’t nag to go places that PG tries to send me. Only use when an adult is around.
Eats batteries. Tell mum when it’s running low on batteries. Don’t get grumpy if it runs out of juice.
Privacy – age, location, email collected. Don’t give my real name. Use a ‘junk’ email account. Mum to email PG to ask them to delete any of my personal information. Set location settings to “don’t track” when not in use.

A few months down the line, and the guidelines are still in play. Ten months down the line, and the guidelines are still in play. We’ve discovered that the game is great fun to play together. He and his younger brother have joined forces and play on the same account, and I regularly find myself catching Pokemon and visiting Pokestops on their behalf. [We’ve also been chatting about the gamification techniques that keep you hooked, but that’s another story for another blog…!]

There have been some minor adjustments/renegotiations along the way (they are guidelines not rules), but they are rarely broken. When they are, a gentle reminder of “didn’t we say…?” tends to get us back on track.

These simple steps allow you to address a number of digital safety issues together, and most importantly, it empowers your child to come up with their own solutions. Not only are the lessons more likely to be remembered, your child is better equipped to deal with life’s little (digital) challenges.

This week, my son (still 8) has announced he wants his own YouTube channel. Watch this space…