Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts can be a bit sterile and business-like. Consider other ways for children to connect socially, like Google Duo on Android, FaceTime on iPhone or apps like Caribu and Popjam. These feel more personal and offer fun features like 3D Masks and shared drawing boards.
Make Chat Fun Not Formal
Gaming = Social
While parents and carers separate social and gaming, for children the two go hand in hand. They will seamlessly move from connecting in a game like Roblox to chatting on apps like Discord. Plug-in any headphones with a microphone to their controller to enable them to chat while they play games like Rocket League, Minecraft and Dauntless. You can set-up parental controls on all consoles to specify who your child can communicate with, restrict games to an appropriate PEGI rating and apply passwords on spending. It’s also a good idea to play together with the sound through the TV as they get started with these online games.
Set Safety Settings With Children
Take time to configure each device, games console and app your child uses online. Do this together with your child as a chance to discuss where things they share will go, and what personal information is appropriate to put online. For any app or service that requires an adult account, ensure your child only uses these services in your presence.
Talk with children about how they want to be treated online, and how they should treat others. This creates a safe space for them to be open about mistakes and learn from them. More than just staying safe, they can be compassionate, supportive and understanding within appropriate boundaries with their friends online.
Children’s technology can become a torrent of requests, messages, invites, updates and other notifications. Configure the notification settings in their device so they are not being overly-pestered. You can limit which apps can send notifications and when and how these notifications will appear.
Technology That Helps
Find tools and technology that give you some control. The Circle device, for example, plugs into the Wifi and lets you set a bedtime, time limits on your Smart TV, tablet, smartphone, computer and games console in one place. It also helps you understand the patterns of use of your child on different social platforms across their devices.
The BBC Own It app comes with a custom keyboard that offers advice and support to children as they type. This might be advice about their feelings wellbeing, connecting with mates online or just helping them protect their privacy. The keyboard also now recognises if a child is expressing worry or anxiety about COVID-19 and responds with help and support.
Technology is a wonderful way for children to find some normality in abnormal times. Set-up correctly and with parental and carer guidance it can become an essential, and positive, part of childhood.
Find out how the brand new BBC Own It app can help children to lead a positive online life. The app comes with a special keyboard that gives helpful tips and friendly advice as you type, plus it has a diary feature to help children track their feelings.
Advice from Andy Robertson, journalist and author of Taming Gaming.
Get more useful information on coping with the COVID-19 lockdown from Internet Matters.