Keeping Young People Safe Online

Vernette John-Joiles shares some insights on how parents and guardians can help young people navigate the online world safely

We are living in unprecedented times, in terms of the amount of information we can access from the internet. Furthermore, we are living in an era where those who access the internet are getting younger and younger. If you are a parent/guardian, or work with young people, online safety may be a sobering matter because of growing dangers, such as cyberbullying; exposure to inappropriate content; sharing personal information; and downloading harmful software onto their devices. This is the reality we are faced with today.

But first, let’s go back to basics

As Christians, we have so much direction and wisdom available to us throughout the pages of the Bible. We serve a God who is able to help and direct us in all things that pertain to our daily lives – including the online space. We must pray for the young people we are connected to, and pray that God will increase our awareness and knowledge about online safety. He will guide us on what do with the young people who are in our lives, and on how to approach this matter.

Now, let’s look at some suggestions that may help us to have a faith-filled mindset towards online safety.

Tip 1: Engage proactively with young people about their online activities and connections

Social media platforms and messaging apps can often be the easiest places for cyberbullying and viewing inappropriate content. So, seek to be conversational with your young person, to learn about the content they are engaging with online; the conversations they may be having; videos they may be watching; and what they find entertaining. Seek to learn all you can about their online world.

Tip 2: Encourage the use of mobile devices in open spaces, and not just in isolation

If possible, consider cultivating an environment where your young person isn’t left alone with a mobile device/laptop for long periods of time. Perhaps encourage them to use their device in an open space, in the company of other people. This means you can keep an eye on what is being downloaded or read/listen to online conversations. Minimising the use of devices in isolation will provide balance for the young person in what they are consuming. To take this further, if the young person is a minor, it might be useful to impose some limits on device usage, i.e. all devices must be put away late at night. 

Tip 3: Reassure your young person that they don’t have to do anything online that feels uncomfortable

As part of ongoing conversations, encourage your young person to take care who they connect with online, and tell them they don’t have to carry out any actions that feel uncomfortable. The temptation with social media, messaging apps and online forums is that psychological pressure can cause young people to get caught up in the moment, and comment or share without thinking. Be available for your young person so they know they can come and ask your opinion about any request they may receive – especially if it’s from somebody they don’t know or have only recently become acquainted with.

Tip 4: Consider using security features for devices and apps

If you are responsible for young children, it can often feel convenient to give them a mobile device as a way of keeping them occupied. If this is something you do regularly, security features – such as password locks to restrict access to inappropriate content or inadvertent purchases – would be a useful step. Many mobile devices are installed with password locks and other security features, so that apps can locked after a certain period of time.

Further guidance

Lastly, here are some useful websites that have a Christian approach to online safety. Some also have mobile apps that can be downloaded.

Common Sense Media: www.commonsensemedia.org

Internet Matters: www.internetmatters.org

Protect Your Eyes: www.protectyoungeyes.com

In conclusion, let us not forget there is a lot of good that comes from the online space. Today, we have diverse ways of learning; easier methods to check in and connect with others; and countless ways to share the Gospel. It’s important, therefore, to hold a balanced mindset when thinking about helping young people to stay safe online.

As a parent/guardian or somebody who works with young people, be sure to protect your own digital footprint as well. Online safety is an important topic for everybody.

Vernette John-Joiles is the founder of Digging Into Digital. Vernette enjoys teaching and training about digital and tech, to improve digital literacy for Christian leaders. Visit www.digginginto.digital

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *