Safer Internet Day falls in February this year and is celebrated globally to raise awareness of the dangers of technology for our young people whilst encouraging children, professionals, parents, and caregivers to do their bit to keep children safe online.
There is no denying the fact that our young people are growing up in a world which is very different from the one we lived in when we were their age. Today, with such advancements in technology, our children and teenagers face challenges that, as parents, we can sometimes find hard to comprehend.
Youth Fairy Katie in Hampshire shares her recent experience:
“My 7-year-old niece asked me the other day, ‘what was it like for you in the olden days?’
After explaining that I’m not really that old, I went on to tell her that there was no ICT room when I was at primary school, we’d use the library rather than the internet when we wanted to find something out, that online games that exist right now weren’t even a thing, and that having a mobile phone was seen as a luxury.
She looked at me like I was a dinosaur.
And that made me feel really old!
Even though this wasn’t such a long time ago, it made me reflect on how rapidly things have evolved and how fast-paced our lives are now.”
In a world where we use technology without even thinking, and have come to rely on the convenience it offers, it is hard to imagine a time when all of this didn’t exist. The online world, especially right now, is a huge part of our young people’s lives and, whether we like it or not, it helps them to build social connections. In fact, studies have shown that the interaction we have with friends online, if not excessive, can be just as meaningful as the ones we have in real-life.
Of course, we need to support our young people to create a healthy balance.
- You fall out with your child for engaging in excessive screen time
- You can’t understand why your child is texting the very person they are sitting next to in real life
- Sometimes it seems as though someone has hijacked your teenager’s brain and you just can’t reason with them.
In these instances, it can be really helpful to understand how your teenager’s brain works and acknowledge that it is very different from our own adult brain.
So, let’s take a look at how it works:
- Teenagers rely more on the amygdala (the emotional part of their brain) to process information. The pre-frontal cortex, associated with rational decision-making, understanding consequences, and problem-solving, isn’t fully developed until teenagers reach their mid-twenties. This means that they rely more on their emotional primitive mind to help them problem solve and make decisions. This can lead to more risk-taking, destructive and impulsive behaviours. In addition to this, excessive screen time can also negatively impact the part of the brain that processes emotions and controls attention and decision-making.
- Excessive screen time releases dopamine in the brain, the chemical most commonly associated with addiction. Due to the developmental stage of a child’s and teenager’s brain, young people are most susceptible to its effects. Dopamine is secreted in the brain’s pleasure centre, meaning we get rewarded with this feel-good chemical, which in turn makes you crave its effects more. As a result of the instant reward young people get from their digital devices, the brain begins to wire itself to desire this stimulation. Multiple studies looking at MRI scans of the brain have found that the brains of teenagers who play a lot of video games look similar to the brains of those who have addictions to drugs or alcohol. In essence, screen time is addictive!
- Teenagers, like adults, have an innate desire to be part of a ‘tribe.’ Many millions of years ago, our ancestors would have thrived as part of a tribe or team. They would have been rewarded when they interacted with others with a chemical response in the brain. This reward would have helped them feel motivated and cope better with day-to-day activities. This reward is now understood to be the release of chemicals in the brain that make us feel good, such as Serotonin. Whilst we know that face-to-face interaction is healthy for our young people, technology is here to stay and plays a huge role in how they form those all-important social connections. By removing screen time entirely, we risk cutting our young people off from the world they share with their peers and the means they use to construct their social tribe.
In this way, we can see that in an attempt to shield our children from the dangers of technology, we can be inadvertently fuelling a bigger problem.
So, how can we create that careful balance between supporting our young person’s need for technology and the desire to ‘fit in’ with the need to keep our children safe online and nurture healthy habits?
- Try to create a healthy balance as a family. If you feel your child’s screen time is impacting family time, their positive interactions with others, or their sleep, then having an honest, open conversation is a good place to start. Involving your child in creating time limits as much as possible can be really helpful as can turning notifications off on your child’s devices. Our role as adults is also really important too so try to model a healthy balance to your child. This might include putting devices away at dinner time or being mindful that your own interactions with your child do not become distracted by digital devices such as texting or emailing. We are all guilty of this sometimes but being aware of the times we are doing it is a good place to start!
- Limit screen time in the hour before bedtime as much as possible. Multiple studies have shown the negative effects blue light has on the production of Melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. Therefore, it is a great idea to put devices aside in the lead-up to your child’s bedtime. Perhaps the whole family might get involved by having a ‘technology-free’ evening at least once a week.
- Set up parental controls on your child’s devices. This ensures your child is only able to access appropriate content whilst online. This can be done through your internet or mobile provider or on certain online services your child accesses, such as YouTube. Parents can also control settings on their child’s device, such as turning off ‘in-app purchases’. Childnet provides some great advice for parents on this and you can access this information using the link at the bottom of the page.
- Research the games and apps your child talks about. New games and apps are coming onto the market all of the time and it can be tricky as a parent to keep up. Some great websites have been created with parents in mind where you can research the intended audience and content of any game, such as at common sense media (see the link to this at the bottom of the page). It is always a good idea to research the PEGI rating of the games your child plays. This is similar to an age rating and relates to the level of violent or inappropriate content.
- Report inappropriate content. Ensure your child or teenager knows who they can talk to if they come across something online that concerns or frightens them. Can they name a list of trusted adults they can turn to? Are they aware of the importance of reporting it to a trusted adult rather than trying to sort it for themselves? As adults, reporting inappropriate content is one of the most important steps we can take to help keep the internet safer for all. Check out the links at the bottom of the page to find out where you can report concerns about the content you or your child finds online.
- Look out for changes in your child’s behaviour. Is your child becoming more withdrawn or spending longer on their digital devices? Perhaps you might have noticed other changes in their behaviour, such as more frequent anger outbursts or you have overheard them talking about a new friend they have made. If you are concerned about your child, it can be really useful to first have an honest conversation about this with them but also to report any concerns you might have to your child’s school. As adults, we all need to do our bit to help our young people to stay safe online and by working as a team we are more likely to notice changes in behaviour, enabling us to work together to safeguard our children.
- Have open conversations with your child about their experiences online. Above all, children and teenagers need to understand the online dangers they are exposed to in an age-appropriate way. It is vital that as adults we have open conversations with our young people so they know what to do if they feel frightened or uncomfortable about anything they come across online, in the same way as we would discuss real-life scenarios. It’s also important children are mindful of their own actions and always consider whether something would be appropriate for them to do in real life, without the false sense of security a screen might give us. This extends to sharing information online or even just interactions with friends and peers.
Technology is here to stay and will forever be a part of our lives, so whilst we can’t fully eliminate the dangers our children are exposed to, we can support and educate our young people to make good choices online whilst offering them a safe space to share their concerns.
If you would like to find more information about how you can help to keep your child safe online, the following websites are a great first step:
Follow the ‘Parents need to know’ section for a wealth of information about a range of online safety concerns:
Report harmful content at:
Check out new games and apps your children mention:
Visit for more helpful advice on keeping children safe online: