Those of us of a certain age remember a pre-internet time when a school project meant browsing through an encylopedia or a trip to the library. Or how when we needed a plumber in a hurry we had to rely on the trusty phone book or family/friends. Now we’re connected practically 24/7 and it’s made for a very different, albeit fascinating world and often such development brings with it risk – and fear of the unknown for those who aren’t regulars on the web.
Those who are aged 18-34 are now considered Generation C or Generation Connected, as they generally are logged in quite a lot of the time. And although they’re no longer our concern in terms of internet safety, those coming after them are. Children born in this century, pose an even greater challenge for us. Who hasn’t commented on the fact that they’re more likely to write gr8 to save precious characters when they really want to say great? Or marvelled at how the little people in their house instinctively know the workings of a smartphone straight from the box barely glancing at a manual? When walking the streets my 5 year old finds a phonebox fascinating, why after all would he even dream of a phone that didn’t sit in your pocket?
The pros of the internet are many and include improved communications, expanded marketplaces, enhanced educational opportunities and even new industries which would not be possible without the web – even though there are indeed industries that have almost disappeared because of the web also.
The internet develops at a rapid pace and it’s such changes that can create a sense of panic and in fact open up people to risks that they may not even be aware of – and that would be adults as well as children. Although in an adult’s case it’s not so much advances from anonymous others or cyber-bullies, more so a lack of protecting their identity – but that’s for another day’s post.
Social networking in particular tends to get bad press and sometimes this can be justified – it is after all not always easy to know where the kids are hanging out online these days, never mind familiarise yourself with privacy settings.
Often it’s left to schools to educate kids but as anybody who has ever witnessed a 3 year old with a smartphone can tell you, by the time our children reach school they’re already pretty comfortable with terms like youtube or google and can quite probably download apps to keep themselves amused. How does a teacher compete with that when they’ve got to work with pencil and paper? Or how as they get older does an educator deal with a student who can probably do their homework quite easily with a little help from google?
Parents have a responsibility to know what their children are up to. As somebody who spends a lot of time online I do appreciate that I might be a lot more web-savvy than many but I’ve lost count of the number of adults I’ve spoken to who allow their children use Facebook and don’t even have an account for themselves. And yes, it is often children – frequently with their parent’s knowledge – using the platform despite the required age of 13, given that all it takes is inputting the incorrect date of birth.
Some of these parents have allowed their children access to take part in games but is that really sufficient excuse to open up a world of social networking to a child? I ask parents to think, would they allow their child out into town on a Saturday night unsupervised and generally the answer is a resounding NO. Yet, these same parents frequently don’t know who their child might be speaking to on the web? Or what they might be plotting?
Tuesday 5th February 2013 will be the 10th World Safer Internet Day and here are some of our top tips to make enjoying the web a safer experience in your home;
We would suggest that parents need to;
- Monitor your children’s activity online – you are responsible for them, not the school, not the government but you as their legal guardian. And such monitoring would include their laptop/phone/tablet as well as any others in the house that they might have access to.
- Consider restricting the length of time they spend online and keep an eye on whether they’re online via their phone when they’re supposed to be doing homework or even sleeping. And if you choose to restrict their access by updating the WIFI password remember it’s often not that difficult to log on via the neighbours!
- Insist kids share passwords with you – no they may not like it, but you are the parent here and many a parent has been known to only grant access to Facebook when the password is shared. This should also apply to email accounts as well as social networks.
- Talk to them about what they actually do online. Do they catch up with friends from school on Facebook? Are they sharing photos of themselves via Instagram? Perhaps they’ve made some videos to share via YouTube? Innocent as some of these activities may seem to a child or teenager, it frequently takes a more mature person to spot exactly why those holiday photos were such a hit with their followers on twitter!
- Befriend them on facebook, follow them on twitter or instagram. Don’t be fooled into thinking that your child does not know how to restrict your access to their updates on facebook or that this might be their only account though. Responding to their every update or tagging them in family photos is not a good idea either, it’s quite probably going to embarrass them and it is of course a reminder that you’re watching them. You’re not trying to trap them, you’re merely taking an interest from a safe distance so that if something or somebody doesn’t feel right you can act. And remember that there is a direct message facility / private inbox that you can’t see, all the more reason to have access to that password we think!
- Encourage them to think about their privacy settings. While they might know how to prevent you from seeing what they’re up to, are they totally aware of what they’re sharing publicly with the web? Or are they aware that what they post now could well re-surface in years to come, perhaps when they’re in the market for a job? Protected tweets on twitter are a good idea too – and keeping a check on followers should definitely be encouraged!
- Protect your privacy – do you really need to share the wild night out with the kids? Or share that meme that you find hilarious but might not be so popular with their friend’s parents when they find it on their kids timeline?
- Google them – and you, even if you don’t share any information online yourself. You might just be surprised to find that the world can tell exactly when your home is empty because you’re off on holiday for a fortnight!
- Ask them to be open with you. Easy to say maybe, but do you actually ask your child if they’ve had friend requests from strangers – I get them as an adult, younger people are quite probably more inclined to accept as the number of virtual friends can be seen as an endorsement of their popularity.
- Talk to them about why you should never say anything online that you wouldn’t say to a persons face. It’s easy to speak or make fun of somebody from a distance, particularly if you’re amongst friends but not necessarily so easy to be on the receiving end of what one person perceives to be a joke when you’re sitting alone in your bedroom.
- Discuss what happens when online friends meet up in the real world – we do our best to keep track of what they’re up to or who their friends are but realistically that gets more difficult as they get older. Factor in that they can now have friends from anywhere and the potential opportunities for trouble. If they really must meet up with a boyfriend they met on twitter you need to be alert.
- Use the network of their choice – you may not like the idea of it but if you don’t at least check out the tutorials how are you really going to understand exactly what they’re referring to when they talk about tweeting or poking?
- Don’t ban it in fear of what it can do, ignorance is most certainly not bliss. Your children will have friends and whether you like it or not will gain access to the web. It’s also going to be an important part of your child or teeenager’s life whether you choose to embrace it or not.
- Tell them not to befriend businesses ever! When you’re on facebook you “like” a page and you befriend a person and there are many reasons for this such as outlined in this post. One of my greatest concerns for the safety of a young person adding a commercial business as a friend is that they have absolutely no idea who is looking at their private information. And what if that business was a bar, a whole other set of moral issues come into play then not to mention that the business in question can therefore promote alcohol to a minor and actually break the law.
While many parents are not happy to engage in social networking, it is important that somebody close – even a trusted friend or aunt – knows what your kids are up to, for everybody’s sake.
For those of you who may use social networking sites or who wish to learn more, these are a number of resources you can refer to;
The internet is one of the greatest inventions ever, it’s not going anywhere even though there are calls for it to be moderated or restrictions put in place – primarily a knee-jerk reaction from people who feel restricting the unknown is preferable to educating themselves.
The most effective way to deal with it is education and acknowledging that it’s here for the long term even though trends will dictate which social networks are in fashion and to what extent your family use it over the years.
Knowledge is power – learn how to deal with it, teach your kids to respect it, play safely and enjoy it for the wonderful resource that it is.