How to keep your child safe on the internet (including games and social media)

Talk about it (and often)

The first and best thing you can do with your child is to talk to them! Ask them about why they want to be online and how they connect with others. Tell them about your fears and what you need to feel more comfortable about their safety. Talk about what they can do if something ever happens or if they see anything inappropriate online and practise the steps together. Keeping channels of communication open will make them more likely to come to you if they ever see something upsetting.

Screens where you can see them

Rather than giving a child an iPad to go take off with them wherever, consider having a shared central computer (like in the living room). This way you can keep an eye on what they’re up to – and they’ll be less likely to search for anything they know they shouldn’t. Make this the only place where they can go on the internet.

Set clear rules (together)

What are some rules that will make you feel more comfortable with them using the internet? Consider what your boundaries are and ask them about what they think some fair rules might be as well. Will there be limits to screen time? Will there be some apps or games that are a hard no? Do they need to show you who their ‘friends’ are on social media apps? Deciding on some clear boundaries together will help keep them safe (and in check).

Make them aware of their ‘digital footprint’

Just because in some apps a photo or post can disappear after 30 seconds or 24 hours, doesn’t mean that it’s not been captured. Kids need to get their head around the idea that once something is up on the internet, it’s permanent. There can always been screen-captures or anything else. Because of this, they always need to think carefully before putting anything online. This isn’t just for images or photos of themselves, but also the language they use; others will see inappropriate or abusive language. Better to err on the side of caution than to regret something later.

No personal information

Because of the above point, it’s so important that kids know that no personal information should ever be shared online – especially in public places like social media posts. This is a good hard and fast rule to have, and can include things like phone number, address, and whatever else you decide.

Know your parental controls

Some games, apps, wifis and devices will have certain controls that will block access to certain things that aren’t appropriate for children. We recommend spending some time and doing a bit of research to see what is within your control (you can start by reading this page from the eSafety Commissioner). Of course, these won’t work as a magic blocker against all harmful things on the internet – but it can help.

No sexual conversations – and tell an adult

This is another one we recommend being a hard rule that should be talked about a lot. It’s also why body safety and knowing about private body parts is so important! Children need to know that if they see – or if anyone talks to them about – anything to do with private parts, they should look away and come tell an adult straight away. If any stranger is asking to see any photos at all, that can be a warning sign. Some kids might worry they’ll be laughed at or get into trouble if this happens to them, so it’s so vital we tell our children that it’s always okay to come to a trusted adult and that they’ll never be punished.

Know who they’re talking to (and no strangers)  

Get them to show you who they’re talking to and who they’re adding on their games and social media apps. It’s not an invasion of privacy to at least ask to be shown who they’re talking to, and before adolescence we would argue it’s okay to ask to see at least some of their conversations – especially if it’s someone that you don’t know of in their real life.  On this point, all of their socials’ pages and games (where possible) should be set to ‘private’.

Add them on your own socials

If you have some of the same social media or even games apps as they do – add them! Kids will be more likely to be aware of what they’re posting if they know mum or dad can see it too.

Keep on top of apps 

SnapChat? TikTok? Roblox? Minecraft? It can feel like technology is constantly evolving and there are always new apps out there. But it helps if you can keep on top of at least the most popular sites and apps that kids are visiting. This can be as simple as looking up something your child mentions, or every now and again just doing a search or two online to see what’s popular right now. Have a read about these apps. Do they have any child safety features? What are the worrying parts of them? Knowing what your kids are using will help you be prepared.

Watch out for cyberbullying

Of course, with interactions with other people online comes the worries and risks of cyberbullying. We can’t hide our children away from the world, nor the internet, so the best we can do is be prepared and set up channels of communication so that they feel they can come to you if something is wrong. Have a chat with your child about what cyberbullying looks like and why it isn’t okay, and keep an eye out for the signs that they may be being bullied (like withdrawing from social activities, even online).

Resources for parents

https://www.commonsensemedia.org

https://mediasmarts.ca/parents

https://www.esafety.gov.au/parents

https://www.esafety.gov.au/kids

How to support your LGBTQ+ child or teen

Every child deserves love and care. Sometimes, it can feel like a huge task as a parent to know how to support and nurture your young person in all the ways they need. Young LGBTQ+ people particularly face unique challenges that some parents might not always know how to guide through – especially with today’s terminology changing so fast (you can read our article which breaks down the LGBTQ+ acronym here). But there are a number of simple and easy steps we can take to become both allies and centres of support for our children and teens who are gay, transgender, or anything else.

Show them love and support

It seems like a no-brainer, but it really is the most important point. Studies from The Trevor Project found LGBTQ+ youth who had at least one accepting adult in their life were 40 per cent less likely to report a suicide attempt. Tell your child you love them, no matter who they are – and not in spite of who they are. Tell them you’ll support their journey and always be there to look out for them. If they’ve come out to you as transgender or gender non-conforming, make an effort to always use their chosen name or pronouns and correct yourself if you mess up (this includes even when they’re not around).

Watch for negative thoughts

You might have moments when you think to yourself, ‘It’s just a phase,’ or, ‘Others will judge me,’ or, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ And that’s okay. We’re all only human. But it’s important in those moments to course-correct your thoughts, and not let them slip out in front of your child. Remind yourself that these thoughts aren’t right or fair for your child: it’s not just a phase, no one will judge you, and you did nothing wrong – just as there’s nothing wrong with your child!

Ask questions and listen, listen, listen

Give your child the time and space to open up to you. Check in often. Ask them questions – about their identity or orientation and what it means to them; the terms can be defined differently for different individuals, and some of the nuances might seem small but they can be a big deal for people who identify a certain way. Ask about their views on the world and their thoughts on the LGBTQ+ experience today. Ask them about their favourite queer idols or stars and what they like about them. Talk to them about current issues for the community. And listen and take on board what they have to say.

Be proactive

Little things can go a long way in showing that you’re a parent who actively participates in your child’s life. Do a bit of research to find out what all the latest LGBTQ+ terms are and what they mean (we have a helpful post on this here). Read the news on sexuality and gender diversity issues. Look into queer events that you can go to together to show that you care. They’ll pick up on your demonstration of support.

Show them representation

Thankfully, LGBTQ+ representation has come a long way – especially in the last few years. There are more movies, television shows, books and podcasts than ever that focus on queer characters and issues. Queer musicians are more common than ever. Watching, reading or listening to these with your child will help to show them that they’re normal and there are many others like them. It also helps to show the breadth of LGBTQ+ experience – that queer people aren’t a monolith and there’s a lot of diversity even just within labels like ‘gay’ or ‘trans’.

Watch out for bullying

According to the Human Right’s Commission, more than 70 per cent of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people have been attacked, bullied or harassed. School yards can be particularly vicious places for young queer people. Watch out for signs that your child is being bullied, including withdrawing from social activities and other activities they normally enjoy, not wanting to go to school, and behaving more withdrawn, mopey or irritable than normal. They also might make more negative comments about themselves.

If you suspect your child is being bullied, check in with them. It’s okay to ask what’s going on in their lives and in the schoolground. From there, talk to your child’s school. They should have anti-bullying policies in place and steps they can take – and hopefully, they will have specific support services for LGBTQ+ kids.

Keep an eye out for signs of poor mental health

A disproportionate number of LGBTQ+ people experience issues with mental health compared to heterosexual and/or cisgender general populations – including much higher suicide rates. Your child or teen might also be showing the signs listed in the above point if they’re suffering from common mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression. If your child has become withdrawn, speak to your GP and do some research to find a queer-friendly psychologist or counsellor for them. If seeing a counsellor doesn’t work, you might need to talk to your GP about other options such as medication.

Connect them with resources and events

Both you and your child need to remember that you’re not alone in this! Far from it, for many people, one of the best things about being a queer person is the community it opens you up to. Minus18 is a fantastic resource that young people can get involved with. Not only do they provide education and advocacy, but they also run events for queer children and teens to help them make friends with one another. You can also show your support by going to events together, such as Midsumma Festival and their Pride March, the Melbourne Queer Film Festival and all-ages drag shows.

Support their self-expression

All adolescents care about how the look – fitting in with their ‘tribe’. This is no exception – even particularly true – for queer tweens and teens. Allowing them to dress in a way that expresses their gender or sexuality can affirm and foster pride in their identity, while helping them feel supported by you. Of course, sadly, there may need to be conversations about staying safe (as visibly queer people can be particular targets for attacks), but you can negotiate situations and places where they can go ‘all out’, so to speak.

Reach out to other families and support services

Once more – you’re not alone! Not sure what to do or say? Reach out to other parents. Ask your child’s school what they’re doing to support their queer students and their parents. See if you can set up a parents’ group. Meet other parents at events such as Pride marches. Look out for Facebook groups. One particularly great resource is The Rainbow Network, which is a website specifically for families of LGBTQ+ children. They also run events, which can be an excellent for meeting similar parents and carers.

If they’re not out to you

First and foremost, try to hold back on assumptions. Until they tell you, you can’t know. Some people just behave and present themselves in ways that don’t uphold the stereotypes of their gender. You might be tempted to come out and ask, but it’s better to wait until they feel the time is right to tell you.

In the meantime, there are ways you can help foster an environment where they’ll feel safe to come out to you if the time does come. Speak positively about representations of LGBTQ+ people on screen. Make it no big deal to watch a film with a trans character or a gay love story. Challenge people around you if they speak negatively about queer people or issues in your presence – especially if your child is around. And finally, let your child know that you’ll love and support them no matter (and not in spite of) who they are or who they love.

Why ‘NO’ is the most important word in your child’s vocabulary (and how to encourage them to use it)

Why it’s important

In a world of ‘yes’, ‘more’ and ‘positive vibes only’, the word ‘no’ gets a bad rap. Say ‘no’ too often and you’re a ‘negative Nancy’ or a ‘party pooper’. You’re not making the most of life’s opportunities or you’re too pessimistic. But ‘no’ is the one of, if not the most important tool in our vocabulary arsenal. Why? ‘No’ is what sets boundaries and protects us from harmful experiences. It’s what allows us to do with ourselves what we want to do – and not what others want or expect from us.

By extension, encouraging our children from an early age to say ‘no’ teaches them body autonomy and that they don’t have to agree to anything they don’t feel comfortable with. Communicating that it’s okay to say ‘no’ also teaches kids to listen and trust their gut instinct with people and situations. It also lays the groundwork for later in life when they gain independence and will be in higher-stakes consent situations as a teen and an adult, especially sexual experiences.

Of course, there will be periods in our children’s lives when it feels like ‘no’ is the only word they know. It might be frustrating, but by process of arguing with parents, children learn valuable skills around conflict management, negotiation, empathy and patience – as well as gain confidence.

How you can encourage saying ‘no’

Encouraging your children to practise saying ‘no’ can be an easy, everyday activity. When possible, allow them to think about and decide for themselves whether they want to do an activity. Role play situations with them where they might want to (or should) tell someone ‘no’ – from whether they want to wear their green T-shirt today to saying ‘no’ to unwanted touching. 

A great way to encourage body autonomy is to allow children to decide whether they want to hug or kiss their relatives at family events. It might tick off grandma or uncle Geoff if they ask for a hug at Christmas and you don’t tell your child they need to comply, but their mild annoyance is of far less importance than the values you’re teaching your child by allowing them to decide for themselves.

When you need to tell them ‘no’  

There will be times when negotiation is not an option and you simply have to put your foot down. That’s okay! It won’t contradict their right to say ‘no’ if you explain to them why. Let them know that, while they’re still children, there will be times when mum and/or dad (or other mum, or grandma, or whoever) will have to say ‘no’ to something they want to do for their own health and safety. Then don’t just tell them, ‘Because I said so!’ (Even though it’s tempting at times). Tell them why you’re saying ‘no’.

When they want an ice cream, tell them you’re saying ‘no’ because we need to respect our bodies by putting food into them that nourishes them. Let them know they can’t have the new toy because money needs to be mostly spent on needs – and we don’t always need new ‘stuff’. If they want to know why they can’t climb along the edge of a ledge, talk to them about risk and not putting our bodies in the way of harm. Telling them the reasons why they can’t do or have some things – rather than just ‘no’ – helps them to understand that denials have important reasons behind them that need to be respected.

How to help ease your child out of lockdown

While we’ve been rejoicing the end of Victoria’s lockdown, euphoria hasn’t been the only emotion brought on by the announcement. Many people have reported feeling anxious at the ease of restrictions. It makes sense. Those in higher risk groups might still be worried about catching the disease, vaccine or no vaccine, and additionally to that, we’ve spent the last 18 months absorbing the idea that social spaces are places of danger. We might be able to tell ourselves that this is no longer true, but it takes time for the body to process information. Some might find that socialising after so long can create feelings of ‘fight or flight’ and a heightened nervous system.

Children and teenagers especially could have complicated feelings coming out of lockdown. Some might be worried about catching Covid. Others might be nervous about fitting back into social dynamics or how they’ll cope with the workload of regular school. Plus, lockdown has taken a far greater time proportionally from their lives than ours. Many milestones such as birthdays and formals have been missed. And developmentally, they won’t have all the emotional and cognitive regulation skills of adults to transition smoothly into this new world. The good news (for us and them) is that brains are highly adaptable, and most will quickly adjust, but how can parents and carers help with this process?

Get them to think about and vocalise how they’re feeling

As always, the best thing to do is ask questions and talk, talk, talk. Ask them how they’re feeling about leaving lockdown, what they’re excited about and what they’re worried about. Get them to name their emotions and ask them to explain how they feel them in their body (sweaty palms? Heart skipping a beat? Etc). Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help, or strategies you can work on together to get them through this transition period. And remind them they can always come and talk to you, every step of the way.

Explain why they’re feeling this way

Some young people might be feeling confused as to why they have apprehensions about leaving lockdown. Talk to them about how our body isn’t always aligned with our brain, and our body can physically manifest worries that we might not consciously be aware of. Explain how we’ve grown used to perceiving social settings as ‘risky’ and how that’s a hard message to just switch off. Talk about how it’s normal to be nervous about going back to school and interacting with friends again – even best friends – and how it might feel as if they’re experiencing their first day all over again. 

Switch the anxiety/excitement axis

Increased heart rate. Butterflies in the stomach. Struggling to sit still. All of these can be symptoms of anxiety, but they can be symptoms of excitement too. And often, our bodies can’t really tell the difference. Try talking to your young person about the importance of a positive mindset. When they express these feelings, try and direct them to something they feel positive and excited about, rather than something that makes them feel nervous to think of.  

Talk about taking things slow and setting boundaries

It’s tempting to make plans for every second of the weekend now that we can again, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be able to handle the go-go-go when the time comes. If they seem to be getting overwhelmed, talk to your teen/child about easing back slowly into social gatherings. If they experience social anxiety, it could help for them to only make plans with good friends they feel very comfortable with to start off.

Part of taking things slowly will sometimes be having to tell friends ‘no’. Sometimes it will be having to tell themselves ‘no’. Remind them that it’s unlikely that the first few weekends out of lockdown will be the best of their lives, so they shouldn’t feel bad about setting limits. Help them decide what some reasonable boundaries might be and practise communicating them with your young person. Remind them that they have a whole summer ahead to have fun; there’s no need for FOMO now.

Reassure them

An obvious but important point. Let your young person know that what they’re experiencing is totally normal, and many others are feeling the same way. Reassure them that humans are adaptable and it won’t be long until they feel back to normal. Chat about how they’ll be able to talk about these times with their friends who have also been through the same thing.

Don’t forget to look after yourself

Lastly, remember your child isn’t the only one going through a strange, exciting, scary transition period! Go easy on yourself and lead by example. By looking after yourself and your needs, and working through your own emotions around lockdown, you’ll also be in a better place to support your child.

How to help your child or teenager cultivate a healthy body image

What is body image?

Body image is the way you perceive your body. It’s how you picture your body in your mind, whether accurate or not, and how happy, unhappy, comfortable or uncomfortable you are with how your body looks. Body image isn’t static; it often fluctuates over a person’s life, or even over a couple of hours.

Body image can become particularly important to young people going through adolescence.

Puberty often causes young people to develop a more complicated relationship with their body, as hormones create both physical and mental changes. It’s a time when young people care about fitting in and what others think of them, especially what they look like. This isn’t helped by social media, which saturates online feeds with idealistic influencers showcasing photoshopped or unattainable bodies and expensive wardrobes.

Of course, there are many factors that influence body image, including a person’s home life, ability, peers and friends, cultural background and more. As parents and carers, we can influence our children’s image of themselves and combat negative messages from the world around them. From teaching critical thinking to modelling good behaviour, there’s much that parents can do to be a positive influence.

Talk about the effects of puberty

It can be scary to watch your body change before your eyes! Talking to children about the changes of puberty before and while they happen can help ease their fear and create acceptance with their new body. Allow them to come to you with their concerns about their appearance, body size and shape – especially during this time. Reassure them that changes are normal, including putting on or losing weight, and that everyone develops at their own rate.

Praise them for things other than appearance

While an occasional ‘you look beautiful’ or ‘aren’t you handsome’ is fine, try to keep compliments focused on things they can do or have achieved or created themselves. Talk about how proud you are of their skills, efforts or interests. This might be praising their helpfulness, their compassion, their cleverness, a goal kicked, an award won or a project completed. You can instead compliment their style – the way they’ve put an outfit together.  

Focus on the things their body allows them to do

Talk about all the joys that come with inhabiting a body. Isn’t it nice to be able to enjoy the taste of food? Isn’t it cool how our bodies will let us climb trees or run a mile? Doesn’t it feel good to hug another person? There are many wonderful things that come with being in a human body, and you can help them see that.

Teach critical thinking when it comes to what they see

This one is so important and will set them up with skills for the rest of their life. Talk about beauty ideals and how they’re designed to be unattainable (so that you’ll buy things). Talk about how images in magazines, movies and social media have been deliberately constructed to make a person look good (like with certain angles and lighting) and how they use photoshop (most of the time, the person doesn’t look like that in real life). Talk about how everyone has imperfections ­– and how imperfections are what make us ‘us’.

Role model good behaviour

Children pick up many of their lifelong habits from home, whether they be practical habits, such as eating, or more intrinsic, intangible habits like thought patterns. Talking about how you dislike your own body or are going on some crash diet is going to send them messages about how they should relate to themselves as well. We know it can be hard, but cutting back on the ‘Have you lost weight?’ or ‘Don’t they/I look terrible?’ comments can go a long way. 

Talk about diverse bodies

Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and abilities – and that’s a good thing! Talk to kids about the diversity of bodies and how it’s a positive. It would be boring if we all looked the same. And there’s no body type or physical attribute that’s ‘better’ than any others.

Encourage healthy eating and exercising

Kids will pick up most of their eating habits and relationships to food and exercise from their parents, so healthy behaviours can and should start at home. Rather than labelling certain foods as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, talk about the nutrition that you can get out of foods and the importance of moderation. Encourage regular physical activity not just for health, but also for enjoyment.  

Monitor socials media usage

One study of 1000 people found that 87% of women and 65% of men compare their bodies to images they consume on social and traditional media. More often than not, that comparison is unfavourable. We know that social media apps like TikTok and Instagram can have a negative effect on how young people view themselves, so it might be a good idea to have limits on how much time your young person spends on these apps in a day.

Allow them to try new looks and styles

It’s normal for young people to cycle through different styles as they try to establish their identity. While we don’t want to encourage excessive focus on appearance, you can still support your young person in finding an image that’s ‘them’. Some of these new clothes or haircuts are going to be hideous to our adult eyes – and often that’s the point. But rather than saying that a look doesn’t suit them (or telling them to ‘cover up’ if they’re dressed provocatively), try to support their trying of new styles. If you have a major issue with the way they’re dressing, sit down and have a conversation where you explain your concerns, rather than just giving instructions to stop dressing like that. 

What to watch out for

In teenagers, an unhealthy body image is directly related to low self-esteem, which can cause negative moods and mood swings. Likewise, low self-esteem and unhealthy body image can be risk factors for eating disorders and mental health disorders. It can be a vicious cycle. While it’s normal for a young person to be conscious of their body, there are a few signs to watch out for, including if your young person is:

  • frequently criticising their body
  • frequently comparing their body with others
  • not wanting to wear clothes, go to events or do certain activities because of the way they look
  • obsessing about weight loss or a certain part of their body
  • spending an excessive amount of time looking in the mirror or taking photos (okay, we know a lot of teens spend a lot of time doing this)
  • feeling obvious guilt or shame over eating certain foods

If your young person is showing one or more of the above, you might like to sit down and have a chat with them about it. Check in, see how they’re feeling, and come up with some ways you can combat these issues together. If their behaviour doesn’t change, or if you’re particularly worried, we recommend your child sees a GP and/or a counsellor or psychologist.