And just like that <insert hysterical laughter> it’s time, finally, for the kids to go back to school. It’s a time of mixed emotions and expense.

On the one hand, we’re delighted to send our darlings back to school and to get back into routine, and on the other, it signals the beginning of the end of summer, and holidays, and the rigidity of routine that is necessary to survive the school/work balance.

Let’s not forget, we’ve also spent a significant amount buying new uniforms, shoes, maybe a horrendously priced calculator and devices for school work, be that an iPad, a laptop etc.

So, now is also the time to take stock of your kids’ online safety and get them back on the straight and narrow after perhaps a little loosening of the rules over this extensive break, or maybe that's just my kids….

Either way, as they head back to school this is a great time to review your family rules and check that you are heading into the new year fully aware of what you need to know and what to do if and when issues arise.

So here are my seven tips to kick you off for back to school safety.

ONE - Stay or get engaged: As we know when we give our kids a phone or tablet or a laptop, basically access to the internet, we also need to be taking to them about the do’s and don’ts for being online. Have some firm family rules in place, but also let them know that should they ever encounter a problem, or something they don’t know how to handle, that you are there to support them, and even if you don't know what to do you will help them to get it figured out.

TWO - Screen Time: I think universally all parents are concerned about how much time is too much time for your child to be online. There is no right or wrong amount, what is important is balance and having some screen free time built into every day. Personally, I find no screens before you are 100% ready for school keeps mine moving in the morning. Oh, and quality over quantity is also a good negotiating tool for us :-)

THREE - Zones devices can be used and cannot be used: Over the long break you may have relaxed the rules about phones in bedrooms overnight, on sleepovers, or allowed them to be on their phones in the car when you normally wouldn't and so on….

FOUR - Audit their apps: Kids talk. So, it’s not at all unusual for kids to have picked up a few new “cool” apps to play over the holidays. Often it’s an older sibling of friends who are introducing them to something new and on trend, or maybe you’ve been away on holidays and the kids they were hanging around at the camping ground/resort/beachside/lakeside/hotel (insert where you went on holiday here) who’ve suggested a way to keep in touch once everyone’s gone back home. All of which are perfectly normal and fine, but you may not want them using these newly introduced apps/games/platforms. So, take a moment and do a quick audit of what they have on their phones and if you don’t recognise some, ask your child and then do a little independent research also to see if you’re happy with these new features. You may be, you may not be. An audit on everyone’s devices now and then is a good thing.

FIVE - Privacy and Security settings: This flows on from the audit, once you’ve determined what is there, check the options available to keep your kids privacy safe. Talk to them about why it’s important to have certain checks and balances in place and then set them up.

It’s cool, we’re all guilty of bending the rules for the path of least resistance on occasion or for a little peace and quiet on a road trip J However as we head back into the first term of school it’s time to remind the kids of your rules around where they can be online, and where they cannot, and why these are your family rules.

Extra tip: Check back and make sure they’re still in place a few days later – just in case your child has decided that they know better than you – some teens think we parents are stupid, but we’re not!

Extra extra tip: See our courses for step by step setup guides to all the popular apps/games and platforms (and if what you want isn’t there, then let us know that this is one you need)

SIX - Signs to look out for cyberbullying: This is important. School can be tough and what we know is that most of the cyberbullying starts at school. Look out for;

  • Increased secretive behaviour when online
  • Less obvious use of their device
  • Avoiding social occasions or things like the mall or the bus
  • A decline in school grades
  • Sudden unexplained change in friends
  • Physical changes, bruises, cuts, wearing clothes that cover them up more than they normally would
  • Losing things at school – more than is normal.
  • Eating more or less
  • Trouble with sleep, stomach aches, headaches

It can be tough to broach this topic and on their own these signs might be just what they are, time for new friends, forgetful, struggling with the increase in school work etc, but they’re all good indicators to be mindful of, and to use as a catalyst for a conversation. There are lots of great resources out there if you think your child is being bullied online: like Kidshelpline, the eSafety Commissioner, your school or a trusted professional like a psychologist who specialises in either teenagers or bullying; someone like Speak Teen. Be watchful and act if you think your child is experiencing this.

SEVEN - Sharenting: Look its natural to want to share a picture of your child’s first day of school, whether it’s their first year of their 10th year, but please be mindful of who can see YOUR photos and information online. Check your own settings to make sure it’s only your nearest and most trusted that can see such personal information as your child’s identify and the school they’re attending. Now days I ask my children if I can share a picture of them online (the answer is often no) as I am very mindful of their digital footprint and that often the story I am telling is their story to tell, and not mine. I don’t necessary love this, but I respect their decisions and it comes down to respect and consent. So, this year, consider asking your child if you can share their picture online and if “Yes”, then be aware of who will see it when you share it, and then happily share away and rejoice in what is one of the happiest days – the first day back at school for the year!

Heading back to school is an exciting and an overwhelming time for both parents and kids. I hope these seven tips help you to get a little more prepared for the year ahead.

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