The decision to allow children to have restricted or unrestricted internet access is one that shouldn’t be made quickly or lightly. The world of the internet, while obviously hugely beneficial, has dangers lurking at every corner. There are safeguards that can be put in place, but there are also websites, and clever children ready to take down those safeguards and work around them. Here are some topics for consideration.
Will the device have internet connectivity through 3G/4G access or Wi-Fi only? The Irish Times cites that “a third of children in second class had smartphones” and “[a]t sixth class … more than 90 per cent have mobiles”. While outside of the home, and outside of a home Wi-Fi network, who is monitoring the usage of these devices?
If a parent has set up, for example, an iPhone for a child, have restrictions been placed on what purchases, if any, can be made? Are passwords that are set by the child, shared with a parent? Are passwords set by the parent, for example iTunes and Amazon, kept secret in order to deter the child from making unauthorised purchases? One child managed to accumulate quite a large bill on his father’s iPad. Not only did the child know the password to gain access to his father’s iPad, but had also memorised the apple ID password for purchasing apps.
In general, social media sites have rules about at what age a user may have a profile. However, a child with a password, allowed to install whatever apps they choose, will not be deterred by a simple rule. The majority of digital devices come with cameras. This opens up a whole new world of vulnerabilities as personal photographs are shared on social media; often with tell tale signs of what school they attend and where they live. Outside of social media, simple gaming apps may have chat functions. Children that are unaware of the risks of revealing personal information, including daily routines, location of home and school, can easily be targets for abduction and grooming.
Being active on social media means being 100% exposed 100% of the time. An avatar, profile picture, or representation of yourself is available to be mocked and ridiculed, publicly, privately and anonymously. The delicate self worth of young people is easily damaged as bullying is not restricted to the schoolyard, but can go on twenty four hours a day. Rumours often ‘go viral’ when posted on Social Media (For example click here to see an article about being a Responsible Producer) causing lasting distress for the victims. A paper published by Paris S. Strom and Robert D. Strom, outlines many examples of cyber bullying and how it “differs from other forms of mistreatment” as well as exploring “implications for teachers and parents”. Conversely, a longitudinal study conducted by Charles Steinfield, Nicole B Ellison and Cliff Lampe, outlines that “Facebook affordances help reduce barriers that lower self-esteem students might experience in forming the kinds of large, heterogeneous networks that are sources of bridging social capital”. Social media is not all bad; it enriches the circles of friends and families on a global scale. In a world where emigration has once again become the norm, FaceTime, Skype and other video conferencing software have ensured bonds with family and friends remain strong. Homework exercises in Primary school often have an element of “Ask your grandparent…”. This is no longer an issue for children with grandparents who are not close by. The danger lies in the malicious actions of mischievous users. Users whose actions should probably be monitored by their parents.
A most concerning factor when considering children roaming free and unsupervised on the internet is the ever present possibility of encountering pornography. The average age for children encountering hard-core pornography as referenced across a number of websites is eleven. www.forbes.com refutes that statistic and suggests that youth don’t “start seeking out Internet porn until age 14”. This does not account for accidental encounters however. The New York Times offers advice on “Parenting in the age of on-line porn”. Encouraging relationships of trust between parent and child will raise the likelihood of the child speaking to the parent when they view something that makes them uncomfortable.
Conversely, the internet can be a huge resource for parents and children as they navigate this digital age together.
Homework can be stressful for even the most angelic parent and child combination. Throw in a learning difficulty or two, and the situation is compounded. There are many websites that will recommend a list of ‘top educational apps’. Speaking to the child’s teacher will give a parent a better indication of what tools are being used in the classroom, and give an idea of what can be done at home to reinforce material covered within the classroom.
Children can become more independent and learn digital research skills as they undertake school projects utilising search engines. Digital literacy, encompassing searching and finding, source verification, hyper reading and content production can be taught and encouraged through the early years of education in a manner that will bolster the child throughout his or her educational career. Doug Belshaw suggests that it is at the intersection of individual interest and important issues that “digital literacies” are developed. Watch his YouTube video here.
Siri and other speech-to-text applications allow children to access knowledge before they can spell what it is that they are actually looking for. Immersing children in the digital tools available to them, with age appropriate supervision, will advance their education exponentially.
Jessica Trybus, of www.newmedia.org, outlines the many virtues of Game-Based Learning and asks, “[w]ith the demonstrated effectiveness of game-based learning vs. traditional, passive learning approaches, why have many organizations waited until now to adopt game-based education and training?”. Considering the digital natives that currently occupy the school system, it is only a matter of time before pedagogical methods adapt to a new way of teaching as students are entrenched in a new way of learning before they arrive in Primary School.
Resources for Parents and Guardians:
The NSPCC in the UK
An online course for those interested in keeping children safe online: