A connected life, but the parent role does not change
Connected. We are always online because the Internet has made our lives easier. We’re online ordering a pizza, checking email, making a bank transfer, looking at our social profiles, checking the weather, reading the news and sharing it, replying to a message on WhatsApp… The list is never ending because our lives, and those of our children are online. And if we, as parents, are connected, they are hyper-connected. They were born and are growing up in a digital environment, they do their homework by making use of the web’s potential for research, using a desk computer, a tablet or a smartphone. They are always curious to know what’s going on around them every minute of the day. And their curiosity frightens us, just as the changing world frightened our parents a few decades ago. What hasn’t changed, however, is the role of parent: it’s still up to us to be there with them, talk and learn together, share their lives that are, and will increasingly become, digital and online.
Censure, or inform and explain the dangers? The latter is better
Parental Control: these two English words are often translated into Italian as ‘filtro famiglia’ and they refer to mechanisms that allow us to block online content that is potentially dangerous for our children. It’s true, there are tools to tackle the root of the problem. Translated: I don’t want my child to browse on a specific site, I’ll block access, end of the story.
But are we convinced that this is the best course of action? Our children, who are now largely digital natives, probably know better than we do how to get past the restriction. This is the issue: what Parental Control really means is that you need to know what is safe, and what is not safe. For example, know how social media works so we can explain to our children what material they can find, how to approach the publication of a post, and what information to share. Let’s also apply these rules to parents: are we sure we behave correctly when we go online? If we want to be good teachers, we must not stop learning, understanding, being self-critical. Because the first rule is always the same: set a good example.
We use the same spaces, but experience them in a different way
Very often we use the same websites, but we have a completely different experience. We need to increase our awareness and understand the reaction of our children to the stimuli that they receive while online. Our personality as parents has already been shaped and established. The social media that we all use, and will increasingly use, is an example of this. Acceptance and approval on Facebook or Instagram, the two channels where most visual information is conveyed, are the focus of the social life of our children and they have an impact that also directly influences their lives offline. For a parent the effect is different: having someone who, for example, makes fun of us often simply results in our cancelling them as a ‘friend’ on the social media platform, the idea that our reputation is tarnished with devastating effects is very different experience for a teenager.
Digital maturity is a journey that will last from birth to 18 years of age
“It’s too soon, they are too small, we’ll think about it when their older.” This idea is widespread amongst parents, who procrastinate and don’t pay attention to what goes on online and the effect of the use of various smart devices upon children until they become adolescents. Yet, as happened (and still happens) with TV, now in the first years (months) after birth, without thinking too much about it, we hand our children laptops, smartphones and tablets.
The use of technology and access to material it can convey, is actually something for all age groups, from 0 to 18 years old, and there are basic rules and standards that parents can implement and monitor.
Children. 0-4 years
- Teach them the basics of the use of devices under the supervision of an adult. The child must be aware that the parent is there with them, to the same extent when, for example, they learn to ride a bicycle for the first time.
- Internet access must be restricted, allowing the child to pursue other offline activities: playing with friends, perhaps outdoors, or at least without a device becoming their nanny.
- Games and apps must be appropriate and chosen by the parent and managed so that the child does not become addicted.
Pre-teens. 5-10 years
- The use of computers and other devices must take place in a shared setting, as they grow up it is essential to make it clear that there is nothing to hide and that an adult is always on hand.
- It is possible to provide the initial knowledge of online communication, such as writing and sending an email, but remember that most accounts can only be created by children of at least 13 years of age.
- At this age, when your child is already curious and able to navigate, you can teach the initial lessons about browsers and search engines dedicated to interesting topics and learning.
Adolescent. 11-14 years
- What is social media? They see their parents use it and at school they talk to each other about it. The minimum age for opening an account is 13: an account must still have the same shared access passwords.
- Parents must setup and constantly update the privacy profiles of the child and know the people with whom they can communicate.
- Always monitor what content they share, as well as what content we (parents) share. Setting rules and then being first to break them is a bad lesson.
- This is an important milestone: the parent must be interested in the social media activities of the child and make the journey together with them. A holiday photo? A video of a birthday party? What content, in what form, and with what frequency are questions that the adult, as the teacher, should pose.
Teenager. 15-18 years old
- This is the age when young people are looking for their independence, but we still must make it clear just how much, and in what way our character is shaped by what we find online.
- Awareness and sharing of the consequences of the risks arising from inappropriate navigation is essential. Discussion and support are always at the top of the list, that’s why parents are duty bound to be constantly up to date about developments in what the web provides.
- The use of social media is currently at its peak, while at the same time adulthood is drawing near. It is even more important to explain how social media impacts e-reputation.
What are the risks?
The best defence: be informed, knowledgeable parents
The dangers on the web are always just around the corner. Pornography, bullying, hacking, violent images, malicious people…… We must be aware that our children do not have the same ability as us to identify the risks, which is why (we stress once again) an open relationship made up of constant discussion and dialogue continues to be the best defense, regardless of the strict restrictions set up using parental control tools. And we must pass on to them those good practices that can keep them safe from the dangers that can be found on the Net.
While for the little ones we will create and share specific accounts that are constantly supervised, for the youngsters who are approaching maturity we must teach them the correct use of passwords to access an online service.
At least 8 alphanumeric characters along with special characters such as @#$%^&.
Toggle between upper and lower case.
Avoid common words, or words related to personal information (date of birth, name of person or family member).
Create a different password for each account so that, if one is decrypted, it will not be possible to gain access to all other accounts.
Everything we post or share online stays online
Inappropriate content is not only be harmful to personal reputation, but it also makes our children potentially targets for those who want to make fun of them, or share with others such images or videos. This can have very serious consequences. This is especially true when nude images are shared (Sexting on messaging services such as WhatsApp and Snapchat) which is becoming increasingly popular among young people who are starting to develop their sexuality. This is something that should always be avoided, even with people we trust completely: sharing could become viral, seriously affecting the psychological wellbeing of our children.
Never provide personal information
Daily routines, home address, the school you attend, parents’ credit card numbers, passwords… Excessive trust, in some cases intentionally established by unknown and malicious people, can put the safety of children and the family at risk
Pay attention to prohibitions
Most online services have a minimum age requirement of 13 years (in some cases even higher): this is a ban that particularly applies to parents, who are very frequently tempted to allow accounts to be opened without their supervision. Such behaviour does not only infringe the provider’s policy, but it is a non-educational behaviour that makes our children understand that yes, rules are there, but they can be circumvented.
The same applies to online gaming apps and in-store games. How many parents would take their children to the cinema to see a film forbidden to children under 18? A few or maybe none. Yet this is of no consequence when we are faced with the purchase of recreational games that are legally classified by the PEGI (Pan European Game Information), a reliable indication of the appropriateness of the content of games in terms of protection of minors: 3, 7, 12, 16, 18 are the numbers that indicate the permitted ages.
Use filters provided by service providers
For a parent it is essential to be aware of the features made available by a service (Facebook, for example, by far the most popular social media), including the ability to set up appropriate various types of visibility filters such as the creation of lists (family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues) in order to choose to whom the content can be addressed.
Limit the time spent using devices connected to the Internet
The international community is divided on the maximum limit for time spent on online each day, but rather it emphasizes the importance of developing more meaningful experiences, not limited to the visual experiences that we have using technological devices. If, for the youngest aged 0 to 6 years, very limited use is preferable so that smartphones and tablets do not turn into babysitters, for older children targeted use is allowed both for learning that (obviously) online finds many sources, as well as for entertainment. But always within those boundaries that do not detract from a childhood made up also of family conversation, sports, meetings with friends and all those offline activities that make up the extracurricular day.
E-learning: the web as a resource for learning
A good starting point for parents is to exploit the web as a place where children can learn and develop their digital skills. There are several online platforms for both young people and adults, their key strength is not only that they educate but also that they convey to children that the Internet is a tool to us to broaden their knowledge where they can have fun with their parents. And when the fun becomes real information, learning turns into open dialogue, the best way to deal with topics that often divide the two generations.
This is a simple and intuitive block programming and robotics system that uses images to bring children into closer contact with coding without having to know complicated computer languages. The little ones can make stories, create animations and games, compose music or program robots without having to write lines of code.
It is totally free (designed for those aged between 8 and 16 years old) and immediately produces results that encourages them to continue with tasks and learning outcomes that are in line with their skills.
An interesting aspect also arises during registration. Since parents are very welcome guests, who should accompany but not substitute for their children, they can also explain in a fun setting how to create a username and password and how to validate the registration by accessing the mailbox.
This is a platform that offers material and on-demand lessons for students from kindergarten to secondary school. It is especially designed for parent-child interaction because the system allows you to create an integrated account, so that the adult can follow the progress of the child after reading advice on how to achieve the intended goals. Starting from a rapid self-assessment of skills it directs the student to the most suitable exercises to fill the gaps in his or her knowledge.
There is no shortage of material: thousands of videos (the average duration is from 10 to 15 minutes) and interactive exercises, on topics ranging from tables to linear equations, from stem cells to the history of fascism. The objective is clear, Khan Academy does not want to replace everyday school, it wants to be a perfect extension of what is already being studied in the classroom. With a plus: here the supporting tutor is the parent, who has the task of introducing the child to online learning in a safe environment.
The well-known news magazine has its own news platform dedicated in particular to children between 11 and 14 years old. The articles are written by journalists who are specialist in writing for children and, especially for Italian students, it has the double benefit of knowing what is happening in the world and reading news in English. A section of the site also offers offline tasks with quizzes and tips for writing short essays on current topics. It is an excellent resource for young people to build up their awareness of the world around them in a direct, impartial, simple way and with graphics that lighten the tone of more heavier news articles.
The purpose of this handbook was clear right from the start: there are powerful tools that can filter out content this is potentially harmful for our children, but discussion and constant dialogue must prevail over any blocking tool. And thus an agreement is reached, a pact of trust between the child and the adult made up of simple shared rules that reinforce the understanding of the lessons learned.
FAMILY MEDIA CONTRACT
The 10 good rules to follow online
- I understand the dangers I may face when browsing online and will not share personal information (phone number, address, date of birth, password, credit card codes, etc.) with people I do not fully trust.
- I know that any content I post online will remain visible to everyone, which is why I understand that images, videos or comments can endanger my reputation and that of others permanently.
- I will be responsible for my choices, aware that they mainly affect my online safety but can also affect that of other people.
- I will ask my parents for permission before registering for new services or making online purchase.
- I will never use the Internet to hurt, offend or embarrass other people.
- I know I should not intentionally search online for unsuitable or inappropriate content, especially when I am not allowed to access that material because of my age.
- I know that if I am contacted by strangers who I do not trust, I must inform my parents.
- I will always maintain an open dialogue with my parents and share with them the way I use technology and my online experiences.
- I am aware that time spent online is as useful for my personal development as is time spent pursuing offline activities.
- I understand that these are fundamental rules to follow if I want to continue to use the Internet and devices connected to the Network.
(this is the space for signatures, as per the attached screenshot of the first outline of the book: decide whether or not to include them and make it become a kind of “contract”)
Once gained, even trust must be monitored
Once the lessons have been taught, they must be followed up frequently. Not in such a repetitive way as to trigger in the minds of our children the feeling of being supervised in an overly strict way. Rather, through creating a constructive attitude towards the use of the Internet and devices. We don’t remember the title of a film, we ask them to look for it for us. We’re not sure what ingredient to put in a recipe, we ask them to do a search. These are just examples of how to activate a mechanism of trust, giving the opportunity to share their daily online habits in a way that is like a conversation that takes place on any other topic.
As parents, however, we have a duty to monitor the pact we have made with our children, adolescents and teenagers. And we can do it with a daily, weekly, monthly and annual check-up.
Checking is not a waste of time
- Give an example (not necessarily in an educational way) of how to use the Internet.
- Create a relaxed atmosphere about online habits, such as watching a movie on Netflix or listening to a song from iTunes or Google Music.
- Check the navigation history.
- Monitor how much time is spent online.
- Take time for an open conversation, discussing questions and answers about the issues found when browsing online.
- Ask your children what kind of material they have searched for online, and for what purposes.
- Put a meeting in your diary to talk openly about the issue of online security, assess what decisions should be taken about any risks that arise.
- Examine together with your children the 10 rules of good conduct online