Down with the Digital Kids - Top tips for parents to help their children thrive and stay safe online

Digital is here to stay. There is simply no avoiding it - we are all connected and live in a digital world. To most that’s exciting, we can keep in touch with family and friends at the touch of a button, research holidays and click on web-cams to get a live action view of our destination, purchase our groceries, book a hair appointment, sort out our banking, check out our train times, all at the click of a mouse or a tap on a smartphone.

As parents how do we approach the digital world with our children? Do we fully embrace it with open arms? Or do we approach it with caution and anxiety? In this blog we explore the pros and cons of parenting in the digital world.

Did you know...

‘United Nations research has estimated that 3.5 billion people (47% of the world’s population) use the internet globally. One third of those are under 18 years of age.’ (1)

According to an Ofcom Report, ‘Tablet ownership has increased among 5-15 year olds overall since 2015 (44% vs. 40%) 16% of children aged 3-4 have their own tablet, with this doubling for 5-7 year olds (32%). Half of all 8-11 year olds and 12-15 year olds (both 49%) have their own tablet.’ (2)

Parents are becoming more digitally savvy with ‘96% of parents of children aged between 5-15 using at least one way of mediating their children’s internet use.’ (2)

Because digital is all around us it cannot be ignored. Times have changed. The vast collection of encyclopedia sat on the shelf we nostalgically think of to research homework has been replaced with a tablet that can sit in the palm of your hand. All that information out there condensed and online for the taking. It’s no wonder that children are being more exposed to the digital world, not only through leisure but through the education system too.

The House of Lords Select Committee for Communication recently published a report entitled ‘Growing up with the Internet’ in March 2017. The report recognised this exact point that digital cannot be overlooked, they went onto explain: that “digital literacy, that is, the skills and knowledge to critically understand the internet, is vital for children to navigate the online world. It is also an essential requirement of the future workforce.” (1) Not only that but the committee were all in agreement that digital literacy should ‘sit alongside reading, writing and mathematics as the fourth pillar of a child’s education’. (1)

Alongside the necessity for our children to learn about the digital landscape, what are the benefits and advantages of living in a digital age?

What are some of the advantages of living in a digital age?

Staying Connected - The World Wide Web

Living in a digital world means being better connected with friends and family across the globe.

Video messaging software enables families to speak regularly, keeping them constantly connected. Gone are the days of expensive telephone calls or airmail. Families and friends are kept closer together in the digital age.

The World Wide Web also satisfies a child’s curiosity about new cultures and countries. In fact being online they can research just about everything they dream of from the planets and the universe, to the animal kingdom, and learning new languages and geographical facts. This also enhances a child’s ability to learn a different language or learn more about new cultures in a digital space.

Learning through Tech

Having all this amazing information at their fingertips enables primary and secondary school aged children to research topics in depth. Giving them valuable skills they can use in later education and in the world of work. It’s amazing to think that the world’s knowledge is accessible to our children at the click of a button. No more trawling through books to find the latest research material for homework or coursework. The most recent and comprehensive content is available to them. Being online can also teach our children to be more organised with their learning, from calendar to spreadsheet apps all free and easily accessible to use.

Diddy Digital

It’s not only for school-aged children, there are benefits to incorporating some digital ‘screen-time’ for preschoolers. Although as with all children ‘physical activity, reading and human interaction is imperative in their development. Online educational games that encourage children to follow objects and interact with them can help their hand eye co-ordination, and also their understanding of how to interact with systems’. (3)

Along with the positive aspects of digital and how the channels of communication are getting smaller as we become more connected, there are some disadvantages to being constantly part of a digital world. News in the media around cyber-bullying and social media replacing traditional peer groups and relationships are often in the forefront of any parent’s mind.

What are some of the disadvantages of living in a digital age?

‘Selfie’ Culture

The term ‘selfie’ is used in our everyday language. Social Media in particular can put pressure on our teenagers and young adults (in particularly girls) to look a certain way or to have certain possessions or life experiences. Social Media is an arena where photos and video evidence of certain ‘life-goals’ can be shared with the world. As a parent, it can be a worry that your child may be concerned with ‘keeping up with their peers’ or celebrity culture online. This could have an effect on their self esteem and body image offline.

Screen-Time

There is a definite increase in the number of 5-15 year olds who use a tablet or a mobile phone to go online. According to research carried out in 2016 by Ofcom: Children and parents: media use and attitudes report, the increase is: ‘39% vs 33% for tablets and 28% vs 19% for mobile phones.’ (2). Therefore we could assume that there is a danger that some children could be participating in too much ‘screen-time’ and spending time online. The worry here is that they could be avoiding real social interactions with family and peers, in favour of spending time on Social Media platforms, messaging apps and online gaming.

Disposable Digital

With information so instant and online shopping being only a click away, there is also this notion of a disposable digital age. A generation that expects everything to happen in an instant. There’s no more waiting until next week to watch an episode of a particular kids TV programme, you can find it on demand or on YouTube. Photographs no longer have to go to the chemist to be developed; they can be printed and posted on virtual walls on Social Media platforms.

From search engines to social media, the digital landscape is indeed vast. Our children therefore need some guidance in which to navigate their way through. With the positives of digital do come some negatives.

So what can we do as parents to help our children get the most from digital whilst keeping them safe online? Here are our top tips.

Top tips for your child’s digital world

Educate yourself

Do you know what Social Media platforms your children are on, and importantly how they work? To help you feel comfortable with your child’s digital landscape, understand how content is shared so you have that experience and knowledge to help equip your child with.

It’s not just the Social Media platforms, you also could think about looking at new messaging apps that are available such as WhatsApp and Kik. The latest report from Ofcom identified that there is an increased use of group messaging services. They state that ‘many of these group chats are used for positive activities, like homework groups, but they were also being used in less positive ways, with a fine line between banter and bullying’ (2).

Educate your child

It’s important to teach your child about their own digital footprint in the world. After all, kids will be kids, they will want to join in the latest Social Media craze or share photos online with their friends.

For instance, you could remind them that once content is online, it’s online for good. It’s very difficult to completely remove content once it is up in the public domain, especially if other people share it. Also, teaching them the importance of staying safe online by setting up the right privacy settings and keeping personal conversations and photo sharing confined to a private group.

Perhaps sit down with your child and teach them how to research and find the right information online. Help them identify fake information/news and understand what reliable sources of web content looks like.

Their tablet, smartphone or laptop should have the correct privacy settings. Sounds simple, but can sometimes be easily overlooked. Run through how to use the device and explain how the privacy setting work and what they mean.

‘Stranger danger’ can happen online as well as off-line. So educate them to only become ‘friends’ or connect with people online that they know in ‘real-life’.

It’s good to talk

As with their general education, keep the channels of communication open between you and your child when it comes to online activity specifically. A good level of trust with their digital activity should help you understand what channels they are on as well as facilitate teaching them good online practises. In particular, emphasise that if they are concerned about anything in the digital space that they can talk to you in confidence.

In their report, Ofcom identify four methods of mediating children’s internet use which is useful to know: these are ‘technical tools, rules, supervision and talking to children’ (2).

Our children are the generation of the digital age. Life is more fast-moving, flexible and connected. What is important is that parents and carers offer guidance and support to children to not only build their own digital footprint on the online landscape, but to also teach them about creating human relationships beyond the digital world. Equally, with the digital world being so fluid and transparent, parents and carers should keep on top of the latest digital trends. Be in the know when it comes to the latest Social Media platforms and Messaging Apps so you can educate yourselves and share this knowledge with your kids.

Ultimately, mediating digital activity and communicating with your children about it is key in providing a digital environment where they can both thrive and be safe.

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Useful references:

publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201617/ldselect/ldcomuni/130/130.pdf

ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0034/93976/Children-Parents-Media-Use-Attitudes-Report-2016.pdf

saferinternet.org.uk/blog/parenting-digital-age-what-are-benefits-my-child-using-technology

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