This post was written by Jessica Brookes
Snow falls outside the large steamy windows at a popular coffee shop in the suburbs of London. It’s crowded with dogs, children, people on laptops, people on mobiles and people on another planet. At a corner table, two friends are talking about how much (or how little) they know about keeping their children safe “on devices”. One remarks they rely on the parental settings in web browsers whilst the other confesses not to know if their mobile phone has parental controls. “Must do better”, “must look into that” is the closing sentiment but not before both do some personal admin whilst chatting; online banking for one and eBay listings for the other. The coffee shop is not unusual and neither are these parents.
According to the latest impact report from Internet Matters, the pace of change from 2013 to 2016 shows that parents’ concern increased in almost every area of online issues children face. Yet Parenting Digital Natives, also from Internet Matters, shows that only 49% of the parents surveyed had spoken to their 6-10 year olds about online safety in the last month, yet 78% of 10-12 year olds have social media accounts and online has overtaken TV with 5-15 year olds spending an average of 15 hours a week online. But what does all this research mean?
It means the children that surround us are spending more time online, potentially without adult insight into what they are doing, seeing and sharing. In contrast to television, knowing what is happening on a tablet, phone or laptop requires being involved. It also requires being educated about the risks as well as benefits of social Apps, games and websites children are frequenting. In order to facilitate information sharing and constructive discussions about how to stay safe it’s imperative, as adults, we know what we are talking about. We may not know more than our children, students, neighbours, grandchildren, nieces, nephews etc but we have an obligation to know as much as they do. If they are using the Apps we should be too; especially parents, carers and teachers. And if we can’t keep up to date on the latest, then we can ask the right questions: what are you sharing? Can you chat on it? Can you make friends on it? Can you play games on it? One area often overlooked in social media are the T&Cs. As an example, children usually think they are protected because parents are saying it’s ok. Snapchat is a favourite because the photos disappear after 24 hours, however, the terms and conditions mean that they can and are sold as stock images.
Why all the questions? The question and answer portion of my day is normally at the bequest of my eight-year-old twins, not the other way around. But I know that will change soon. And when it does I want to ensure the lines of communication are open and I know enough about what they are doing to give them practical (even if not always welcome) advice on how to stay safe online. Why then, should other adults in their life or in my community for that matter to also have enough awareness to hold an intelligent conversation with a 10-year-old about online safety? Social apps an online activity are replacing the block party/neighbourhood get together culture I grew up with. I firmly believe that as adults we all have a social responsibility for educating and keeping children safe or society will degrade to the point where the monkeys are running the zoo.
I am back in the steamy café with espresso machines hissing, groups laughing and babies gurgling. The friends conducting financial transactions over an unsecured wi-fi connection gather their things to leave. One dog barks, then another and then another. Within seconds it’s turned from a coffee shop into a rowdy kennel and all it takes is one tall human to quiet a pooch and in an equal amount of time order is restored. If each of us take the view that the small humans of today will be running the world of tomorrow it’s our responsibility to participate in what that world looks like.
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