Ten tips for raising tech-savvy and tech-safe kids

When you grew up, there were no iPads, Google phones, Facebook or Snapchat, and you never had to worry about your digital identity or blue light.

But fast-forward to 2017 and you're now responsible for raising a child whose life will revolve around digital technology, and who will have to be tech-smart, tech-savvy, and tech-safe to survive out there in the wild.

So what are some tips to help you along the way?

We asked for your experiences, and expert Joanne Orlando — an analyst and researcher in technology and learning who has worked as an advisor for the Government, for Apple, and for the children's television show Play School — for her best pieces of advice.

1. When can I introduce my child to technology?

According to Dr Orlando, Australia generally follows the guidelines put out by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which were updated late last year.

"Those recommendations say kids who are two and younger really shouldn't be using any screens at all, unless it's for something like video chatting," she said.

They do, however, say it's OK for you to introduce your kids, once they're about 18 months, to television and other devices so long as you're there with them, and explaining what they're seeing.

Children aged two to five can then use a screen for about an hour a day, and once they reach six, it is up to you to decide what's appropriate.

Which brings us to...

2. How much is too much screen time?

Dr Orlando is asked this question A LOT, and says she usually advises parents to think about screen time in terms of quality, not quantity.

"For example, a seven-year-old might watch quite a violent cartoon or movie for an hour on their iPad ... or spend an hour creating some music, creating an artwork, or playing a game that's got lots of problem solving in it," she said.

"Those two activities, while they're both an hour, they're quite different in terms of the quality and the effect that they have on the child.

"Obviously the high-quality one is the one where the child is doing problem solving, or doing something creative, or applying their knowledge in some way, but the violent animation is not really going to contribute anything in a positive way to a child."

But Dr Orlando said kids shouldn't be on their devices all the time, and it is important to set aside times for them to unplug.

"There might be set times in the family home where you just don't use them — it might be dinner time, or in the car, or particular times of day that work in with your family and the age of your children," Dr Orlando said.

And that time could also be used for physical, outdoor play — which is what parent Liisa Danielle told us on Facebook was a priority for her.

"We set boundaries around technology use and explain to our kids why we have done so. They understand physical play is important for their physical and mental development and technology is a privilege and a tool for both play and learning," she said.

3. Is it OK to give my child a device to keep them quiet?

You probably see this all the time — a parent giving their child a device at a restaurant or in the waiting room at the doctors to keep them quiet and under control.

"That kind of thing is fine to do in moderation, like everything else, but if that's your go-to strategy to keep your child in control, you need to reflect on the implications," Dr Orlando said.

"Because when it comes time to take that device off them, they're not going to want to, and there's a lot of mixed messages there for kids."

4. Can I use technology in front of my child?

The struggle to practice what you preach when it comes to using technology in front of your kids is something that parent Chris Cox knows very well.

"I have struggled to model the correct behaviour, since technology is so prevalent in my own life with work ... it's very hard to get children to stay off devices when you aren't practicing what you're preaching," he said.

But Dr Orlando says it's fine to do so, so long as you consider how it may look from your child's perspective.

"While it might be an important work text, kids don't necessarily know the difference between the types of ways you can use your phone, they just see that you're using it," she said.

5. Will technology affect my child's communication skills?

According to Dr Orlando, there is emerging evidence that children who use technology from a very young age may experience language delays.

"It's still a very new study ... but if a parent is constantly using a device to keep their child quiet, that means they are quiet and there's lost opportunities to just talk casually and use their language and learn to talk," she said.

But it is nevertheless important for children to learn how to communicate electronically.

"There's another whole group of communication skills that we need now, in addition to the ones we've had before," Dr Orlando said.

And some devices can be great learning tools, as parent Alex Sal shared with us on Facebook.

"My children became very good at basic English — needing to know how to spell their own names as their personal password in order to access their own computer games and apps — and maths before they both started school," she said.

6. What about their eyesight, or their sleep?

Dr Orlando hasn't seen any firm evidence yet that technology can affect your child's eyesight, but there is evidence that technology can disrupt their sleep pattern.

"If a child has their notifications on, if they're using the phone up until very late, then obviously that's going to affect their sleep," she said.

"And obviously the blue light that comes from the screen, if you haven't shifted it to night view, that will also affect your ability to sleep."

Dr Orlando suggested looking at your usual going to bed practices.

"If a parent props up an iPad with some music on it, or props up an iPad with the child's favourite show in the cot or in the bed as a way of keeping them quiet so that they go to sleep, that kind of practice will probably lead to the child staying awake longer than they usually would," she said.

7. Is it OK to post photos of my child on social media?

This is a tricky one for parents, because at the moment there is a lot of talk around "digital identity" and the long-term implications of parents sharing photos of their children on social media.

"For example a parent might put up photos of their child messy or in the bath, without considering the embarrassment factor for their child as they get older," Dr Orlando said.

"So we need to be very careful about the kind of identity that we are forming for someone else that they have no say over."

Dr Orlando suggests that it's probably best to err on the side of caution, "and to present a more positive view of your child".

"If your child is old enough, ask them if they like that photo. Let them have a say in the photos that you're putting up," she said.

8. When should I let my child have their own social media account?

The age limit for most social media accounts is 13, and that's because there are laws in the US that prevent websites from collecting any data from children aged 12 and under.

But Dr Orlando said children often start asking for their own social media accounts around the age of 10, so if that's your child, you could consider opening a joint social media account that you both use.

That means you can go through the entire process together — choosing the privacy settings, learning the etiquette and adding contacts.

And it may also be a good opportunity to explain to your child that what they see on social media isn't necessarily a true reflection of reality.

"It's all about that edited life and children don't necessarily understand how content is shaped online, particularly on social media," she said.

9. How can I protect my child's privacy online?

Many of your children will learn about cyber safety at school, but it can be helpful to talk about it in the home as well, as mother-of-two Jo Bowyer does.

When her eldest son downloaded the messaging app Kik without her permission, she said the cyber safety talk that followed was as awkward as their chat about the birds and the bees.

"You know how when you have the sex talk with kids and everyone goes bright red and tries to duck and run?" she said.

So now she's determined to make it a normal topic in the home, especially so her kids know they can come to her with any concerns they might have.

"We've transitioned to always talking about it — we'll discuss things on the news we see about revenge porn, in kid terms, and how that's not okay [and] how the internet is forever," she said.

"And we've found that by discussing it regularly, combined with the talks he's had at school, it's made it a lot easier."

At the moment, Dr Orlando said the big cyber safety issue was "image-based abuse", where children are having images of them posted online without their consent to embarrass, harass and bully them.

"The latest stats show that around 20-25 per cent of young people have experienced image-based abuse," she said.

If it happens to your child, there are handy instructions you can follow on the Government's e-safety website.

10. When should I let my child have a mobile phone?

There's a lot of responsibility that comes with a mobile phone, so it is important to make sure your child is ready, but age shouldn't necessarily be the determining factor, Dr Orlando says.

"Right now the average age for a child to get their first phone is around 10 years ... but I've seen kids who are six and seven with their own mobile phones as well," she said.

Kids need to be mature enough to look after a phone and to communicate respectfully, but it's also important to consider the practicality for your family.

"The kids that I know who are six and seven with their own mobile phones, most of those have parents who don't live in the same house," she said.

"Having the mobile is a way that they can talk to both parents easily, so the ways that a mobile phone can actually benefit the child's life should also be thought about."