Advice from Psychotherapist Stella O'Malley
Stella O’Malley is a mental health professional, bestselling author, and public speaker. Much of Stella’s counselling and writing focuses on mental health and the importance of well-being and she is a regular contributor to the Irish Independent and the Sunday Independent. Stella’s first highly acclaimed book, ‘Cotton Wool Kids’, was released in 2015 and her new bestseller ‘Bully-Proof Kids: Practical tools to help kids grow up confident, resilient and strong’ was released in 2017. Stella is currently working on her new book which focuses on overcoming anxiety and will be released by Gill Books in 2019.
Apply some rules
Children need certain rules regarding their online use and one of these rules needs to be an all-out ban on conversations with strangers. Until the child has matured sufficiently to be able to handle such conversations – for example, when they’re sixteen years old – the parents should consider installing sufficient parental controls on the devices in the household.
If the child comes to the parents explaining how they have defied the rules of the household and spoken to strangers online, it is very important that parents handle this situation with sensitivity and care. Losing your temper and locking away the devices for the foreseeable future simply drives the online behaviour underground. It is much more helpful for the parent to teach the children that some people aren’t who they seem online.
If your child feels threatened or if the conversations online suggest predatory or grooming behaviour then the parents need to go to the police to make a complaint.
It is also important to tell the child’s school about this as these incidents tend to spread like wildfire within schools.
But it is not enough to go to the police and lodge a complaint; parents also need to monitor their children tech usage, they need to teach their children how to behave online and make sure they know what is appropriate and what is inappropriate and also the children need to know how they should respond to inappropriate content.
PArents need to know what is going on in their child's virtual world
Most parents know where their children are and who they are with when they are in the physical world; it is also necessary for parents to know what’s going on in their virtual world.
Many parents find it helpful to get buy-in from their children to be able to monitor their children’s social media. Some parents use the trust-but-verify approach while other parents believe the child’s privacy is more important and so they prefer instead to ensure the channels of communication are always open so the child will come to them if they are worried about online behaviour.
In many ways it doesn’t really matter which approach the parents take so long as the parents are completely engaged in their child’s online activity. Burying our heads in the sand and hoping for the best doesn’t really cut it anymore.