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Supervision vs Oversight - what is the difference?

Noun: Supervision - the act of supervising something or someone

Noun: Oversight - the action of overseeing something

When it comes to your child's online activities, it is highly recommended by both police, world wide law enforcement agencies, child protection agencies and online safety professionals, that supervising your children whilst online is currently the best way to ensure that they are not only safe but also protected from harmful situations. 

The online world as it currently is, is full of people wanting to exploit and do harm to your child in a number of ways. It is near impossible today for children to be interacting online, either via an online game, social media platform or app, without someone potentially trying to groom them and lure them into be exploited and abused. 

That's not to say that every person online is trying to harm your child as that is definitely not the case, but the potential is increased the more your child is online and interacting unsupervised and unaware of the risks. 

The question though is when do they require supervision and when is oversight enough?

From my experience as a police officer and detective, supervision is required until such time that your child is capable and able to identify and manage a potential problem online such as grooming, unsolicited contact from strangers and bullying, by themselves or with help and that they notify you of it ASAP. 

This proactive and positive response will usually depend on the child's knowledge, education and tools as well as their understanding and level of confidence around the issues they are facing. 

Personally, as a parent of a teenage daughter who has just recently had to step back and let go of some of the supervision I had put in place and revert to more oversight of her online usage, it is not always a cut a dry issue. Some things are easily managed and handled, where as some issues may still require help and guidance. 

For children under the age of 8, I would highly recommend that all their online activities are done with supervision in a public place inside your home with you intrusively watching over  them whilst they do it. If this means you are next to them whilst they do what they do, brilliant. If you can't be, then maybe they need to have less time online until you can. They should never be interacting with strangers or making online friends. 

This age group is highly naive and vulnerable and screen time should be limited and supervised at all times.  

From 8-13 (or when you think they are ready), screen time should also be supervised but maybe not as intrusively. All gaming, social media and interactions online should be done with someone able to supervise and help them manage any issues and always in public areas of your home which definitely excludes any bathrooms and bedrooms. Depending on their level of maturity, they may be able to spend time online gaming whilst you are in the room but not looking over their shoulder. Asking them questions such as - 'show me who your friends are online and who are you playing with online?', 'what would you do if someone bullied or called you names online?' or 'what would you do if someone asked you for pictures of your private parts/vagina/penis etc' will help you identify if your child is ready for more responsibility online or is still requiring intrusive supervision. Give them an opportunity to try and solve and come up with solutions to the problems and guide them to the help and resources that might help them.  

This age group is often a highly fragile & vulnerable age group and depending on the child and their situation, will seek validation and acceptance from their peers and online friends. Without supervision, they are easily targeted and manipulated online by groomers and bullies. 

Approximately 14 years up - this age group should be showing some maturity and if educated, should be able to handle many situations or seek out the correct help if required. However, this age group has the added risk of being teenagers and seeking validation from friends is second nature to them. They are often taking risks, pushing boundaries and looking for acceptance from their peers and peer groups. This includes their online world and in their dating experiences. Due to this, they will often be seeking approval from not only their love interests but potentially strangers and 'online' friends. Phones should never be in bathrooms and only used in bedrooms with doors open and only if you think that your teen is responsible enough. Regularly discussing the potential consequences of sharing nudes and explicit content, the age of consent and laws around sexting will assist in educating and empowering your teen to think before they send. 

This age group is vulnerable to being peer pressured and groomed into providing explicit content, nudes and also being bullied for small issues or goings on in their day-to-day lives.  Their friends and peer groups have a huge impact on their emotional and mental wellbeing. 

The key to all of this is that as long as they have the knowledge, wisdom and confidence and are seeking you in asking for help or notifying you of issues online, then you know that you have done a good job in not only giving them the tools to manage their online world but you have created a safe space in which they can come to you for guidance. 

One last thing - be sure to let your child of any age know that if they ever feel scared or uncomfortable online to leave and let you know so you can help them, comfort them and reassure them of their safety and place in the world!