Tips & Advice

Digital Sanity Summit: Keeping your family safe online

Leena Elias, 30 March 2020

As we adapt our homes, our schedules and our networks, we’ll need to figure out how tech fits into our lifestyles through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

In recent weeks the conversation society’s been having about the role tech plays in our lives has changed dramatically. 

The current global crisis has driven us indoors – concentrating much of our work, learning, family time and socialization under one roof. Technology is in the middle of all of these activities. It’s helping us connect in new ways, but it’s also opening us up to more security breaches and threatening to turn us all into screen zombies. 

To stay sane and keep our families safe in today’s new normal, we’re going to have to keep the conversation going about how to best use tech in productive ways.  As we adapt our homes, our schedules and our networks, we’ll need to figure out how tech fits into our lifestyles through the Covid-19 crisis and beyond.

To address this need, we will be providing practical tips, strategies, and insights in a three-part blog series surrounding topics presented at this week’s Digital Sanity Summit. The Digital Sanity Summit is a free online event aimed at navigating technology in the modern world of parenting.

Here in our first installment, we will be exploring five steps to extend the conversation about using technology in safe and productive ways:    

Start with the hardware basics 

Now that kids are expected to use their digital devices as their primary learning tools, it’s important that they have access to a device that is meant to handle those use cases. What kinds of devices do you have in your home? They may be great for entertainment and for general computing – handling at-home tasks, browsing and game-playing. But they may not be able to stand up to the rigorous work you need to do and at-home learning your kids have signed up for. Attending class on a smartphone won’t work over the long term.

Set up a strong school and work environment in your home. Shopping options will be limited the next few weeks at least, but to the extent you can, try to equip your family with devices built for learning and working. 

Get a handle on what is happening on your network

What devices are running on your network? Who’s running them? And when?

These are all key questions when your family is sharing small spaces, crowded schedules, and limited bandwidth. It’s important to be able to have visibility into what devices are running on your network and how those devices are being used. 

My colleagues are trying to help school-age and even pre-school age children who are used to a highly prepared environment with specific tools in place (math, reading, etc.) on devices that are hardened physically and digitally to keep them safe. Now, you as a parent have to piece that world together on your home network through a staggering confusing array of sites, log-ins, apps and packets. 

I have teenagers at home, so all these changes have thrown them for a loop. They’re sleeping late, tapping on their phones all day, and staying up late. By looking at my network traffic, I can see that one of my sons was up until 4 am playing video games without having to prod him about his sleeping habits. This gives me context when I see he’s tired, and enables me to have a healthy conversation with him. I can suggest that he put his device away by a certain time so he can at least get some rest. 

Establish new norms and controls 

We’re all in uncharted territory, trying to create a “new normal.” How you carry this out is going to vary a lot based on your children’s age groups. What you have to get across is that this is a different situation and the whole family has to adapt. We are simultaneously expected to let our kids use technology, but limit their screen time. That is enough to challenge any parent’s sanity. 

With work schedules and more demands on household duties, it is highly likely that you are going to be “free ranging” your kids on the internet at least some of the time. If you can’t be looking over their shoulder, you can protect your kids from inappropriate content and set some limits on their device time by using external tools. This can be done at a device level, but also at the router level, with a device like Omni, to ensure that all the devices on your network have appropriate restrictions. 

As academic and leisure activities are blended in a learn from home model, setting time restrictions on when they can and cannot use certain sites may be more important now than ever before. Kids are missing out on the socializing they normally get in school, and therefore you may want to be more flexible in helping them find healthy ways to interact with their friends using technology. 

Overall, make sure you see the whole picture – across devices, platforms and behavioral activities. Cobbling together different solutions or simply using the native controls on each device will give you patchwork protection but will not provide the insight that an integrated solution can. 

Give them a chance to connect socially

Under normal circumstances, we would all encourage our kids to connect with their friends in real life and put the devices away. But these are not normal circumstances, and it’s important to let kids have their hang out time with friends online. 

For younger kids, be sure to arrange time for them to connect with friends just as you would set up playdates. For teenagers, let them have more time to connect with their friends online, but be aware of their sleep and study habits.

Keep having and re-having the conversation 

While technology will serve an important purpose, it’s critical to step away every now and then. You need to set a good example. Make sure you’re getting physical exercise, eating regular meals and carving out chunks of off-screen time to talk, play with pets, or just do nothing.

Watch closely and see how your children are faring. This can be a stressful time, missing out on activities and adapting to new sets of rules. Take time to understand what your kids are going through, and do your best to stay together as a family.

Don’t forget about cybersecurity 

Stretching technology to its limits raises the possibility that something could go wrong. Hacks in the coronavirus era are increasing, and families need to be more vigilant than ever defending themselves against threats.

Do a security sweep to make sure you’re following best practices. Pay attention to old devices, printers and peripherals, and IoT  that can open up the home to attacks. Make sure you’re following good router security practices and make sure all your devices are being protected by a solid antivirus program.

Tech has the power to help us get through this rough stretch. Keeping conversations open about how we can use it best will help us better adapt to other situations in the future. 

Register now to save your seat for the 2020 Digital Sanity Summit! In future posts we will explore advice from other experts presenting at the summit on how to rethink screen time.