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My kids know more about life online than I ever will - so how do I keep up?

And more importantly, asks Ciara McDonnell, how do I keep them safe?

Image: Shutterstock/Zurijeta

MY SONS WANT to be YouTubers when they grow up.

I can’t pinpoint when the change came exactly, but somewhere between me begging them for a bit of quiet so that I could finish work and shooing them out of the kitchen while I made dinner, my boys have gone from playing with Lego themselves to watching other kids play with it via my iPad.

Recently, they started talking about a game called Roblox, an online multiplayer game highly recommended by Ryan’s Toy Review. In case you don’t know Ryan, he’s a seven-year-old boy, who – along with his parents – earns over €9m per year promoting new toys to his discerning audiences.

To get going with Roblox, we downloaded the app and adjusted the privacy settings to make sure that the kids couldn’t be contacted via the game by anyone.

Roblox features countless user-created games constructed of Lego-style blocks. To the uninitiated, it’s a lot to take in. Instantly though, the boys were off, instinctively knowing how to play these games without a second thought.

Source: Ryan's Family Review/YouTube

I, on the other hand was lost. A technophobe, computer games – especially online ones – fill me with dread and fear.

I haven’t a clue how to play them, I get completely lost trying to work out how to work them, and that, coupled with the fear that I was opening the door to the Bogeyman, and basically enabling my children to come into harm’s way made me take action.


I got in touch with Jane McGarrigle, Project Officer at Webwise, a fantastic online resource for parents when it comes to Internet safety. She says I’m not the first parent out there to wonder what on earth is going on with all that tech.

“Many parents we speak to feel overwhelmed by technology and often feel like their child knows more about the Internet than they do,” she reassures me.

“The key to addressing Internet safety at home is regular, two-way conversations between parent and child that establish clear rules and guidelines. It is also important that parents engage and take an interest in what their child does online and try not to be judgemental.”

For a game like Roblox that can seem impossible to figure out for a parent, Jane recommends taking some time “to sit down with your child and find to out more about the game and why they like it.”

Source: VTubers/YouTube

A sign of the times

Psychotherapist and author of Cotton Wool Kids, Stella O’Malley agrees that there is no point burying your head in the sand. Yes, your child’s knowledge of the internet may be far ahead of yours. It’s simply a sign of the times.

Rather than hoping the problem will go away, O’Malley urges parents to stay connected.

“I think it’s ultra important to keep some kind of conversation going about what your kids are doing every night,” she says.

If you’re finding it hard to start that conversation, O’Malley suggests thinking about gaming and tech in terms of the kind of socialising we ourselves would have done as kids.

“Think about it as going to the green, or to sit on the wall at the end of the estate. You’d want to stay up to date on what they were up to if they were outside. It’s the same with this.”

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But if your child does share something unexpected with you, be thoughtful in how you react.

Make the most of those communication skills

Irish families tend to have much stronger and healthier communication links now than the typical family of twenty or thirty years ago, and that’s something we should use to our benefit rather than something we should exploit, says O’Malley.

“Today, kids are inclined to tell their parents much more. It’s important for your children to know that you aren’t going to throw away all their devices if you find out that something happened online.

“They need to know that you’re going to keep your head and that you’ll chat to them about whatever happened. The last thing you want to do is create an environment where your child is secretly online and too afraid to tell you if something happens down the line.”

When it comes to safety online, I’ve learned that in knowledge and acceptance comes power.

There is no benefit to pretending that the internet doesn’t exist, or to put a blanket ban on tablet use in our house. My kids are part of a generation who will experience more technological advances in their lifetime than we could ever dream of, and it’s time I educated myself.

I have started by creating my own Roblox avatar. I’d tell you its name, but our privacy settings don’t allow me to make online friends.

If you’re looking for more advice on how to have an open conversation with your kids about tech, gaming and internet usage, check out Webwise’s resources for parents here.

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