How To Navigate Being A First-Generation Digital Parent

May 28, 2018

By McAfee® Australia’s Cybermum, Alex Merton-McCann

Parenting can be just so complex. Not only are we juggling our children’s emotional, health, educational and social needs but also their technology ones. And as first-generation digital parents, many of us are flying blind!!

Our recent celebration of Mother’s Day reminded me again of how technology has weaved its way into almost every aspect of our lives. For my first Mother’s Day – 21 years ago – I was given a pair of fluffy, pink slippers. This year, it was a sleek, shiny Fitbit! How things have changed!

Days like Mother’s Day are also a good reminder of the important role we play in protecting our kids in our tech-fuelled world. The fact that we are first-generation digital parents, who can’t benefit from the experience of previous parenting generations, makes this job so much harder. To help, I’ve put together a few tips on how to educate your family on the risks that are posed by phenomena like social media and the latest and greatest gadgets:

Cyberbullying

As connected devices provide unfettered access to social networks, many children are exposed to the online world before they have the emotional smarts to navigate it. With most tweens and teens armed with smartphones, clearly it’s impossible to supervise your child’s every online move.

Cyberbullying is without doubt parents’ biggest concern and rightly so. The recent tragic suicide of 14 year old Aussie girl Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett broke our nation’s heart and provided many Aussie parents with a wakeup call. In its 2016-17 annual report, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner revealed that reported cases of cyberbullying had increased by a whopping 60% over the previous year.

Yes, we are all very busy and more time-poor than previous generations of parents, BUT we need to prioritise our children’s safety and wellbeing online. While there are no guarantees in life, there are steps we can take to reduce the chance of our kids being affected by cyberbullying. Here are my top five suggestions:

  • Let your children know they can confide in you, then they will be more likely to open up.
  • Make time to understand their world (their friends, their teachers, their favourite activities, which social networks they use, the movies they see) so you’re better equipped to notice when things aren’t normal.
  • Weave cyber safety into your family conversations – try it out at the dinner table!
  • Limit screen time (including your own – set a good example) as a particularly horrid aspect of cyberbullying is potentially constant 24/7 access to a victim.
  • Make sure your kids know where to go and who to talk to if they are a victim of cyberbullying. Teach them it’s important to collect evidence of the cyberbullying and block the bully. You can report the cyberbullying incident to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. Also, try to find out what support is offered by your child’s school.

Connected Gadgets

Being a first-generation digital parent is really tough. It can be difficult to say no to the constant requests for the latest gadgets, but sometimes we need to make the tough calls to ensure our kids are safe! While smartwatches seem to be the connected gadget of choice for many Aussie tweens and teens there are some risks associated with them. In October, the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) examined smartwatches designed for kids and reported concerns over the security flaws, privacy issues and risks posed by some smartwatch features. Worryingly, it was found that smartwatches can in fact be used as listening devices.

Some smartwatches also have flaws such as transmitting and storing data without encryption which makes it easier for strangers, using basic hacking techniques, to track your children. This lack of encryption can potentially put their privacy and identity at risk.

So, if your kids have a smartwatch on their wrist, here are my top tips to keep them secure:

  • Do not keep any personal information on the Smartwatch, especially credit card details and your address.
  • Never download apps for the Smartwatch from unknown sources.
  • Run the updates for your device’s software as soon as they become available.
  • Only use secured Wi-Fi networks when connecting to the internet. 

Securing the Home

Regardless of whether you choose Alexa or Google Home, a digital assistant can be an enormous help for any busy family.  Whether it’s reading the kids a bedtime story or a recipe while you cook, or setting timers – it’s the closest thing many families can get to another set of hands! As helpful as they may be, there are some risks involved in having an ’always on‘ device in your home.

If your home assistant is hacked, your personal information could be at risk. Which means your bank account details or your identity could be put at risk. And as the device is ‘always on’, your personal assistant can listen to and record what is being said around your house – a definite privacy issue. So, here’s what to do to stay safe:

  • Protect your home’s internet at the source, usually the router. Solutions such as McAfee’s Secure Home Platform – available soon on D-Link routers –  will protect all the devices that connect to your Home Wi-Fi including your digital assistant, giving you peace of mind.
  • Always change the manufacturer’s default password when setting up the Wi-Fi, and if possible whenever you add a device to your home network. Make sure you create a complex, unique password instead.
  • Don’t allow your home assistant to store your private information. This includes passwords, credit card numbers and contact information.

Investing in Ourselves

As first-generation parents, one of the best ways we can navigate the online world is by educating ourselves. So, get online and join all the social media platforms your kids are using, read technology news and stay abreast of new trends and apps. If you have genuine knowledge of the digital world, you will have ‘tech cred’ in the eyes of your kids. This means they are far more likely to come to you if they have an issue online. Which is exactly what we want!!

Alex Merton-McCann is McAfee Australia’s Cybermum who blogs, tweets and Facebooks about online family safety. She has 4 sons aged 14 to 21 who ensure she remains particularly up-to-date with the latest gaming trends and all things social media!

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