Did you know: you’re the custodian of your child’s digital footprint, and it’s a very important role!

My 8 year old daughter recently looked at me after a took a photo of her and said, “You’re not going to put that on Facebook are you?”

The comment shocked me a little. It symbolized the rather sudden shift from a young child that has little or no awareness or concern about what is published/shared about them, to a not-so-young child that is all of a sudden very aware and concerned.

It got me thinking. As an 8 year old she is a member of the very first generation to have their whole lives represented online. She was born a short time after Facebook and a short time before the iPhone – right at the beginning of the social media revolution. She will be able to look back when she’s older and see photos and updates of her whole life as part of our family. Hopefully this is mostly a positive thing for her, but I’m becoming more and more aware that the things we post as parents could have unthought of implications for our children down the track.

As an educator, I have always spoken to children and teenagers about what they put online about themselves as if they will be building their ‘footprint’ or reputation from a blank slate. But for my daughter and her generation, by the time they start fully using the internet for themselves, their digital footprint will already be detailed.

Let me explain. Everyone has a digital footprint, or ‘online record’ of some sort. It’s almost impossible to avoid these days. For many of us, particularly those under 30, our online identities are a huge part of our lives, and tell others a lot about us. Much of our online identity is hosted on social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ etc. We do a lot of our shopping online. We search for cars or real estate. We may also have a blog, or at least subscribe to one, be members of a club, or sign up to get the newspaper. Whatever it is, our digital record shows an awful lot about us (the video below demonstrates this really well). As adults, we have almost full control over what we publicly put online about ourselves (if we choose to keep aware and informed). But what about our kids? They are often featuring heavily in our online posts and conversations, and often have absolutely no say in the matter.

Think about it, these days by the time the average child has learnt to talk, their digital footprint is well developed. It usually begins about 12 weeks after they are conceived with a Facebook post announcing you are expecting. The first photo of them posted online often happens before they are even born: a still from one of the ultrasounds. Then the world sees their birth, and just about every other detail of them as they grow in to toddlers.

By the time our children are old enough to know what is going on, their digital footprint is detailed. And the quality, safety and appropriateness of that footprint is entirely dependent on the parents they were gifted with.

We, the parents, are the first and last generation in history that has had full control over our digital footprint from its very first days. Lucky us!

So what can we do for our children, who haven’t had that good fortune. And what’s the big deal anyway? There are 2 main issues to keep in mind:

1. Safety: its commonly thought that its not safe to post more than 3 pieces of information about your children in the one spot (or even yourself, as that’s all that people with bad intents need to track you down or even ‘steal’ your identity). Think: full name, date of birth (which may be from birth photos or pictures relating to celebrating their birthday each year), school (any shots with school uniform included will provide this), general locations (particularly holiday spots), sports teams, other children in their sports teams etc etc. If you do post pictures of your children, then its a great idea to remove personally identifying information such as their full names and birth dates. Untag them in pictures. Your friends know who they are anyway. Some people I know create a private group in their social media of choice (eg. Facebook) in which to post photos of their child and then only invite select people to be members of that group.

2. Reputation and personal privacy: when you post photos or information about your children, remember it hangs around for the best part of forever. Therefore, you are not just posting a photo of a child, you are posting a photo of a future adult. And with that in mind, you need to consider whether that future adult would really want that photo or piece of information shared with the world. Think of it kind of like those embarrassing photos you plan to share at their 18th, except its ongoing, and you’re sharing them with everyone you’ve ever known and, eventually down the line, all the friends your child will ever have in the future. Consider your child growing up, making their own Facebook account, and inheriting all those pictures you’ve tagged of them over the last 10 years or so and having them suddenly become visible to all their teenage friends. Imagine starting at high school and having all your friends viewing naked baby photos of you in the bath…

You may say this is worst case scenario, and perhaps it is, but you get the point. You are the custodian and, more than that, the protector of you children’s digital footprint. And in the 21st century, there won’t be too many more important things than their digital reputation.

Managing Minecraft

16_14_29If you’re a parent of teens or tweens you’ve probably been shown Minecraft by your kids. Most likely you’ve watched in amazement as they’ve become hooked on this game which has graphics that wouldn’t have even been considered state of the art when you were a kid.

But after that amazement you may have entered the ‘worried’ phase, as your child became more and more involved in building things, trying to protect themselves from zombies, and even meeting other users in this fantasy world.

So what’s the deal with Minecraft? What’s it all about, what are the risks, and is it appropriate for your child to be playing?

At its heart Minecraft is a fantastically simple game that provides kids with a world where they can build almost anything their imagination allows them to. It can be educational and is used in lots of schools to teach Maths, Geography and Physics. There are enormous positives to Minecraft, but some things you need to be aware of as well, particularly with younger children.

ACMA has put together a great little summary about Minecraft for parents here. It’s designed to be short, to the point, and answer the key questions parents might have.


“My kids are driving me crazy asking for the iPad all day!”

“Can I play on the iPad?”
“No, you’ve had enough screen time today, I’d like you to play something else”
“Ohhh, can I PLEASE play on the iPad?”
“But I want to play on the iPad! Can I?”

Sound familiar? If you’re house is anything like mine with young kids, the following conversation probably happened at least a few times a day over the recent school holidays. The repeated requests from your children to play on an iPad or game console of any sort can drive you to insanity if you’ve been trying to set screen time limits for your children and stick to them.

Why don’t they take ‘no’ for an answer? Why do they get so obsessed with the device and ask to use it over and over again? It almost seems like an addiction…

Well, the first point to note is that you’re not alone – this issue is presenting itself in a big way to parents everywhere. So how can we move to a more positive and effective method of managing the amount of screen time our children have without it always turning into an ongoing negative exchange?

A possible answer lies in changing the foundations of how these conversations take place.

During my time in schools I’ve observed that some teachers can drive themselves crazy standing up the front of the room and telling students what they should or shouldn’t be doing again and again and again, and still be dealing with the same negative behaviour everyday regardless.  Why don’t these students get the message?

The answer often is because the students didn’t feel any ownership over the guidelines the teacher was setting in the first place. If they haven’t ‘bought in’ to the rules being set, they have no intrinsic motivation to keep to them. The teachers knew why they set certain rules, it seemed obvious, but they sometimes didn’t realise that the students hadn’t really thought through why those rules were in place.

A teacher’s world completely changes when they turn the rule setting over to the students. What rules do they think should be in place in order for us all to be able to learn together in a happy environment? Having the students come up with the rules, and the consequences for breaking them, changes the foundations of all future interactions.

It’s the same as parents. Trying to enforce particular limits on screen time is frustrating for us, but also for the child that has no deeper understanding of why these limits are in place and had no say in deciding on them. It seems like a pointless rule to them which is designed solely to ruin their life! Try going right back to square one and developing some screen time rules with your children there with you. Have them work out with you what sort of time on a device is appropriate, as well as what sort of activities might be appropriate for them to be doing. Remember, some activities on screens are highly educational, creative, social and stimulating.

Discuss with your children: why are you actually worried about them staring at a screen all day? What might be the negative consequences of this? You may be pleasantly surprised at the maturity of the conversation as your children start to realise the reasons behind the limits you’ve been setting. Once the new rules are set together, there is a joint buy in and hopefully far less negativity over any interactions about the topic in the future. You may even set a time limit for each day, within which the child has some control over when they use that time.

The next thing to do is to brainstorm other things your children can be doing in times that they might want to play on the device but can’t. Sometimes kids genuinely need help finding other activities to engage them, especially on school holidays. Also, what are the things they need to do around the house to help out  before they can even access their screen time for the day?

I came across this article recently written by a mum who went through this exact process with great success. Please click on the link and have a read, and if you try something like this with your kids, let me know how you go in the comments below.

It’s time to change our parenting habits around electronic devices

L plateA few years ago, deaths caused by road accidents in Australia rose to an unprecedented level. Deaths and other serious incidents among younger drivers were particularly high. The logical conclusion was that the more inexperienced you were on the roads, the more likely you were to have a serious accident.

State Governments around Australia decided something needed to be done, and so they made a move that would force behaviour change in an entire generation of parents. They mandated that before a teenager could go for their license, they had to have clocked at least 100 hours of driving experience accompanied by a licensed adult (up to 120 hours in Victoria). The outcome of these laws was that they essentially forced parents to spend quality time with their teenagers teaching them how to drive. No longer could parents pay a driving instructor to give their child a few lessons and then send them off hoping they’d pass the driving test. They had to do the long hours teaching and guiding their children through experiences in all types of situations before setting them off on their own. Now when teenagers drove for the first time they would be highly experienced and so far less likely to come to grief.

I’m mentioning this because I believe its time to change our parenting behaviour around electronic devices in a similar way. As parents we spend lots of time with our children, but they can be very demanding and at times we get exhausted and just need a break. From the earliest age, electronic devices like phones and iPads serve as fantastic baby sitters in times like these. Where traditionally the TV gave parents a solid hour or so of peace and quiet, its now more frequently the tablet or phone serving this purpose. They are also great to turn to in emergencies. Having difficulty keeping your child quiet in a waiting room or restaurant? Out comes the iPhone.

Now, I’m not saying this is terrible behaviour and it needs to stop. But the danger is that this behaviour forms a habit in our parenting as we see electronic devices as ‘break time’, which leads to this behaviour being repeated again and again. “They make my child quiet and engaged so I can get some things done.” For most parents, time on the iPad for child = time to yourself as a parent. And just like with Australia’s road toll, we’re seeing the cost of these children growing up without any parent guidance in their online activity.

How much shared screen time (or ‘co-viewing’) time do you spend with your kids? Spending even 5 or 10 minutes with them on whatever activities they are doing each day can tell you so much about where they are at, both educationally and in terms of their digital literacy. If you make frequent efforts to do this, as they get older it becomes a normal parent/child time. There’s not that sudden suspicion or resentment when mum suddenly wants to see what I’m doing online when she’s never shown an interest before. You are there beside them to help them intelligently navigate things like social networks and messaging apps for the first time, rather than trying to spy on them when you eventually clue onto the fact that they have become the centre of their social life.

You will also likely see some things that will genuinely blow you away. For me it’s been amazement at my 5 year old son’s phonics knowledge during literacy games, witnessing my 8 year old daughter’s incredible creations in Minecraft, and watching on as both of them have moments of fantastic creativity using music or photo editing apps.

And if you don’t know your way around the online world, what better way to learn than navigating with your child, growing your intelligence of the digital world with them from the very first time they pick it up.

Its time that we stopped seeing electronic devices just as baby sitters that allow us to switch off from active parenting. Just like with driving, there is a generation of children that desperately need those quality hours of supervised guidance before they navigate the online world completely on their own.

Can you speak the same language as your kids?

In recent posts we’ve looked at the apps and sites kids have migrated to in order to conduct their interactions away from where their parents and relatives ‘hang out’ online. Which brings us to the next issue for parents: even if you do manage to keep a tab on you children’s interactions online, can you actually understand what they are saying to each other??

‘Internet slang’ is the term sometimes given to the new forms of ‘English’ evolving through online interactions. It originated in the early days of the internet as chat rooms arose and people began to develop short hand ways to write words in order to save keystrokes and so get messages across more quickly. In more recent years, small keyboards on mobile phones and character limits on social network sites such as Twitter have dramatically escalated the evolution of internet slang or ‘netspeak’.

Most parents understand terms like LOL (laugh out loud) or BFF (best friends forever), but beyond these most common terms they quickly start to get confused. So how can we as parents keep up with the evolution of online language, at least enough to understand our kids? Firstly it helps to know the basic methods by which most terms arise.


By far the most common internet shorthand is to take a common phrase and just use the first letters of each word when writing it. For example, ROFL is an acronym for Rolling On the Floor Laughing. BTW = By The Way. OMG = Oh My God and so on. Most sites that explain internet slang for parents seem to only be aware of these types of slang words, but really they’re only the beginning.

Letter/number homophone abbreviations

Slightly more difficult to interpret, these are like acronyms but with letter and number homophones mixed in. CU = See You, CUL8R = See You Later, gr8 = great and so on.

Phonetic spellings

Sometimes its just fun to spell words however you want, its not necessarily even shorter or easier to write, but it is cooler than following strict spelling conventions. For example, ‘weel’ instead of ‘wheel’, ‘kewl’ for ‘cool’, or ‘nite’ for ‘night’. Many of these arose due to common typing mistakes, for example ‘teh’ is now common for ‘the’.  It’s helpful also here to understand that ‘ph’ is often used to replace ‘f’, such as in ‘phear’ for ‘fear’.

Dropping vowels

NVR = never, NVM = never mind, WR – were and so on. Whole sentences can be written without vowels, for example, ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ would become ‘Th qck brwn fx jmps vr th lzy dg’.

I won’t try and provide a dictionary of internet slang here, mainly because it would become outdated as soon as I published it. It may help to provide some terms that are popular right now, and also some that are particularly important for parents to understand. So here’s a list you can test yourself on!

YOLO – ‘You Only Live Once’. Can be used to justify risky or extreme behaviour

FOMO – ‘Fear Of Missing Out’

IMO – In My Opinion

ASL – Most common form of introduction on the net, as in ‘What is your Age, Sex, Location’

O RLY – This is strictly used as a sarcastic or ironic ‘oh really?’

PRON – Porn

CWOT – Complete Waste Of Time

LMIRL – Lets Meet In Real Life

PAW, PIR, POS – these used as warnings: Parents Are Watching, Parent In Room, Parent Over Shoulder.

CD9 – Code 9 (parent nearby)

BF? GF? – Do you have a Boy Friend/Girl Friend?

GTG – Got To Go

S2R – Send To Receive, as in, if you want a picture of me you need to send a picture of yourself first.

Remember, Google is your best friend when it comes to translating from any language – even Internet Slang! So if you are struggling to work out a particular phrase or word, just Google it!  urbandictionary.com is another really handy site that seems to be very responsive in adding new words or phrases as they arise on the net.

So now probably all that’s left to say is….GL! (good luck!)

Reducing screen time: How to “get your ‘no’ on”!

One thing you can rely on in life is articles and ‘news reports’ about how kids today have too much ‘screen time’. ‘Health experts’ have been decrying the amount of screen time kids have since I was a kid myself. Everything from obesity to sleeplessness to anti-social behaviour gets blamed on kids spending too long in front of a screen. Sensationalism sells, and so the media talk about kids’ ‘screen time’ as if it’s a train running out of control or as some sort of monster that is devouring our children’s lives and all we can do is sit hopelessly by and watch in horror.

Beyond the hysteria, there is a simple fact in play. There are people in control of how much screen time our children have – us! And there is a simple solution to cutting back the amount of screen time our children have: parents, get your ‘no’ on!

Back in 2007,  the National Australian Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found that the top 10 barriers to children changing their behaviours around screen use all related back to parents. Either there was a lack of willingness to restrict their children, a lack of ability to enforce boundaries, or poor screen habits themselves that exacerbated the problem in the first place.

So in reality, its not the kids we’re bemoaning when we see these stories in the media on screen time, its the parents.

So how do we change this? It’s both harder and easier than you think.

1. Set ground rules in advance.

Don’t make up and enforce rules on the run. Many parents haven’t thought about how much screen time they’re happy for their children to have each day, they simply get to a point where they decide enough is enough and tell their child to ‘get off that thing’. Having no warning leads to the child being upset or angry and they may try to avoid or delay what they have been told to do. This sets up repetitive negative experiences around device use and to parents ‘hating that thing’. Instead of this, decide together what is a reasonable amount of screen time each day, and how that should be enforced. Health authorities in both Australia and the U.S agree that no more than 2 hours per day for children is best.

2. Take time to ask about what your child is watching or doing online.

‘Screen time’ is such a broad term it has become unhelpful. ‘Screen time’ could be doing homework, reading an e-book, creating a book or artwork, finding out how to do something, socialising with friends, playing a game or watching a TV show or movie. Most often, tweens and teens are using internet devices to communicate with their friends. Having no understanding of what your child is doing on the device they are using can potentially lead to parents making decisions about usage that are un-sensitive to what their child is up to and so perceived to be ‘unfair’. For example, if your teen is having an ‘important’ conversation online, forcing them off the device at that particular time would be  the equivalent of your parents coming past and hanging up the phone mid-conversation when you were a teenager.  Having an understanding of what your children are up to will give you a better guide when setting ground rules about device rules with them. It also contributes  to creating a positive relationship around device use, rather than repetitive negative encounters.

3. No means no. Do what you have to do to enforce it.

Electronic devices can be ‘addictive’, and children can be very persistent when it comes to trying to sneak more use after you’ve forbidden it.  I’ve known parents to switch the home WiFi off, lock up iPads in filing cabinets, or confiscate devices after a certain time each day. Do whatever you need to do to enforce the boundaries. Saying ‘no’ and then letting it happen anyway is the worst thing you can do whether its to do with device use or anything else, as you are letting your authority as the parent erode away.

4. Use technology to help you.


This might sound counter intuitive, but its a great idea. Recently I was sent a product called ‘Parent Box’ (parentbox.com.auby a reader of this blog. This device plugs into your family internet connection and allows you to set controls on each device in your house individually. You can set up limits on downloads and time spent on the internet for each of your children, and once these limits are reached the internet is simply shut off for their device. It also enables you to easily see which devices are accessing the internet and what times they are accessing it.


Letting technology take over the enforcing of rules that you have set with your children beforehand can cut out the arguing. Managing internet time becomes black and white and not an issue that you are always trying to enforce and being the ‘bad cop’ about. An added benefit is that your children can log in to see a dashboard showing them how much of their downloads they have used for that day or how much time they have left to use the device. This gives them more of a feeling of control over their own behaviour, rather than the uncertainty of mum or dad telling them ‘time’s up’ seemingly out of the blue.

5. Finally, the most often broken rule of all: NEVER LET DEVICES INTO BEDROOMS.

We see it time and time again and it is where almost all ‘bad things’ online happen. Parents often say ‘but my child is a good kid, he wouldn’t do anything bad’. It’s not about whether they’re good or not, it’s about keeping them safe. The safety of letting a child play unattended near water has nothing to do with how ‘good’ they are, and neither does use of electronic devices in bedrooms.

Whatever strategies you use, know that it will require constant vigilance and the continual need to reinforce the boundaries that have been agreed on. There is no one saying this area of parenting is easy. It’s anything but! There will be some really tough times, and other times when you feel you are ‘winning’. But remember, you’re in charge and in control.

‘Screen time’ has a boss: you!


“What is ‘The Cloud’?”

the-cloudRecently, a parent from another school leaned across to me, and in a very hushed tone so that no one else would hear, said: “When people talk about ‘the cloud’, they’re not talking about a real cloud….are they?”

The ‘cloud’ has become such a popular term so quickly that it has suddenly become one of those things people are too embarrassed to admit they don’t really understand. But if you’re one of those people, don’t worry: it’s not a term that is commonly properly understood. So what does it actually refer to?

When computers first came on the scene they were completely individual devices. That is, everything a computer needed in order to operate was stored on its hard drive. If you saved something on one computer (perhaps a Word Perfect document, or the level you got to on your ‘Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego’ game) you couldn’t access it on another, because it was stored on that original computer’s hard drive.

This was very limiting, especially in schools and businesses. Until someone came up with the bright idea of joining computers up into a ‘network’. In a networked environment (like most people would have at work or in schools), you log in to any computer on that network and it brings up all your documents, applications and settings just how you left them. That is because all the computers in that building are joined together via cables to a central computer called a server. All your documents are actually stored on the hard drive of that central computer (server), not the individual computer you are working on.

Servers grew bigger and bigger, and the technicians required to maintain them became more and more expensive. At the same time, the internet took off. The internet connected all the computers in the world in a similar way to how we were already connecting all the computers within a building.  As internet connections became faster and faster, it became possible to begin to store things on servers that weren’t in the same building as you were. This was great, because it meant you could access those things from any computer or device, at home or at work. It also meant businesses could ‘out source’ their server needs and save all the money that would be spent trying to maintain all that data themselves.

This came to be known as ‘the cloud’, because people collectively imagined that the documents, music and photos they saved went ‘up into the air somewhere’. In reality, when you are using a cloud service, your data is actually going across cables laid deep under the sea and being stored in a ‘server farm’, which, depending on the service you are using, is most likely located somewhere on the west coast of America.

Lots of ‘cloud storage’ options have sprung up in recent years. Apple has ‘iCloud’. Google has ‘Google Drive’. Microsoft has ‘Sky Drive’. Yahoo has ‘Flikr’. And then there’s independent companies such as ‘Dropbox’ and ‘Evernote’ which are also hugely popular.

What 'the cloud' really looks like - inside one of Google's 'server farms'

What ‘the cloud’ really looks like – inside one of Google’s ‘server farms’

With the advent of small and highly mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, the ‘cloud’ has become more important than ever. Whether you know it or not, if you own one of these devices, you are using some sort of cloud service. That’s generally not something to worry about, but it is always good to inform yourself about exactly what you are signing up to when you buy a device or sign up to a service. If you have an Android device, you have data stored on Google’s servers somewhere. If you have an Apple device, you will have data stored on Apple’s servers. If you are on a social network of some sort, you are also using cloud servers. Every photo you upload to Facebook for example, is stored on their servers.

Each company has different agreements that you sign that deal with privacy and who owns the data in slightly different ways. Do you know if Facebook owns the rights to the photos you upload, or do you maintain ownership? I encourage you to find out!

At Kalinda, our students have Google Drive accounts that are managed by the school through a service called ‘Google Apps for Education’. This gives each of our students 40Gb of storage, and most importantly, the data remains private and highly secure, the school retains all rights to the data, and all accounts, passwords and settings are managed on site by myself and our computer technician.

So hopefully, now when someone mentions ‘the cloud’, you can nod your head knowingly and understand exactly what they are talking about – even if they don’t!

Beyond Facebook – popular apps your tweens and teens now use Pt 2

In our last post we started looking at the top apps that tweens and teens are using for online social interaction now that all their parents are on Facebook. Last time we looked at iMessage and Kik, the two most popular instant messaging services of the moment. In this post we’ll take a closer look at photo sharing site ‘Instagram’, and the infamous exploding message provider ‘Snapchat’.


InstagramInstagram is primarily a photo sharing site. Users can take a photo from within the app, apply one of many different filters to it, and then share it with their friends or the wider world. Instagram exploded in popularity a number of years ago on the back of the filters users could apply to their photos. Remember your old family photos from the 70s – square shaped and slightly faded? You can use the filters in Instagram to make your photos look like they’ve jumped right out of one of those old albums.  Or you can get very arty by applying the filters to enhance those ‘interesting’ shots you may have captured that you secretly think are quality art works. You can also put ‘hashtags’ on your photos so they can be found by other people that share your interests. For example, searching ‘#cats’ on Instagram will give you millions of photos of people’s cats.

Recently I had a friend travel over to the Winter Olympics in Sochi and send me some amazing images of what he was seeing and doing over there. The true power of social media apps like Instagram is that I can search ‘#Sochi’ and see photos not just from my friends, but from everyone who was at the Olympics using the app, including the athletes themselves.

It must be said though, ‘arty’ or ‘retro’ photos, or even searching up events by hashtags, are not really what our teens or tweens are up to on Instagram. Their world revolves around communicating via posting comments under the photos that are put up on the site. In this way, much like with the messaging apps in our last post, the original purpose of the app has been twisted by kids to the point where it has basically become a chat room facilitator.

Because the comments under the photos are the most important thing, anything and everything could be a subject for an Instagram photo. Photos can range from pics of pet cats and dogs, to ‘selfies’ – a term which describes a person trying to pose to look as good as possible while taking a picture of themselves. Once that photo is posted, the comments can begin. The comments that continue on under these photos become the social hub of the site. Its important to tweens and teens that photos get ‘liked’ or commented on by their ‘friends’ (or anyone else) and in fairly quick time. The more attention a post gets the better they feel. This is part of their social acceptance ritual. A little like when we were in Primary school and we dreaded being the last kid chosen by the captains picking out teams for footy at lunch time. You’ve nominated yourself for the game, if no one wants you on their team it’s an embarrassing experience.

Kids often use Instagram to ‘advertise’ their messaging usernames for more ‘private’ chats. They may post a ‘selfie’ and say ‘Kik me @___’ (see previous post about this) or something similar. Many kids are just keen for anyone to take notice and chat to them, which isn’t the safest state of affairs, particularly if their account isn’t set to private and each of their photos is geotagged so that everyone knows exactly where they are (see below).

Like most social media sites, things can get very nasty very quickly. We’ve seen groups of users gang up to single out and abuse a particular child. We’ve also seen more subtle negativity, such as ‘cooler’ kids placing comments that tell ‘less cool’ kids to stop commenting on their photos. This sort of snub in such a public space can be socially devastating.

More generally, I’ve found the language and subject matter on Instragram to be shocking to parents. It doesn’t matter how ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ a parent considers themselves, they are universally shocked and disgusted when I’ve shown them some of the conversations their child has taken part in or at the very least been a witness to.

As mentioned above, Instagram tags all your photos with geolocation information, which is really important to know about. This means that everyone can see exactly where and when each photo was taken. This is called ‘geotagging’, and there is a post dedicated just to that topic here.

Instagram states that it is restricted to children over the age of 13.


Snapchat is a messasnap chatging site with a key difference which has made it hugely popular with kids. When sending a message or photo to someone on Snapchat, you can choose how long the message exists once they receive it. A bit like the old ‘self-destructing message’ in the Mission Impossible series, the person you send the message to will only have it in front of them for the amount of time you set, and then it will explode in front of them.

In an age where kids are becoming all to aware that what they post online can stay there and haunt them forever after, Snapchat must feel like a great alternative to kids where the user is in control of who can see what they post and how long they can see it for. Or so it seems.

Sending exploding messages is fun, so that kids at about a year 5 or 6 age often refer to it as ‘playing on Snapchat’. However, the false security of a message that explodes in between 1 and 10 seconds has meant that the app has become the forum for many ‘dare’ related games, or pictures/text being sent that otherwise wouldn’t. And in the end, the user that receives the picture can screen shot it on their phone, or take a picture of their screen with another device, and therefore have the picture in their possession long after it explodes.

Snapchat will often be used with another app. For example, two kids may carry a conversation on using iMessage, and at the same time be sending photos via Snapchat. One might say to the other ‘I dare you to write “I love Dave” on your hand and take a photo’. Innocent and childish enough, although we’ve seen dares very quickly move to things like a boy saying to a girl ‘I dare you to take your top off and sit there for 5 minutes and send photos as proof’. These type of dares have led to parents of children involving the police, and when this happens anyone in possession of these types of photos can be charged with child pornography offenses.

Unfortunately these types of events are not rare, in fact, quite the opposite.

Snapchat is another app that specifically states that it is only for users 13 or over and we strongly recommend that parents of our students at Kalinda prohibit its use.

Beyond Facebook – popular apps your tweens and teens now use Pt 1

In our last post we looked at how teens were deserting Facebook for other apps that were ‘cooler’, or, more specifically, parent free. With most parents on Facebook now, it is no place for kids to carry out their social interactions. They maintain a presence on the site, but use other apps and services when interacting with friends.

What follows is part 1 of a 2 part post which aims to give a brief overview of the apps we have observed are most popular among our students in grade 5 and 6 right now. The information following aims merely to help parents understand what these programs are, what they do, and the potential issues that may come up.

Kik and iMessage

These instant messaging services are highly popular for teenagers and also in Primary schools for students as young as grade 3.


iMessage is only available on Apple devices. Surveys we conducted at Kalinda before our 1:1 iPad program began found that up to 90% of students grade 4 and above owned an Apple device, usually an iPod touch or iPad. iMessage comes free with these products. iMessage is basically SMS, with the key difference being that you don’t need a phone account for it to work. As long as you have Wifi connection you can send as many messages as you like and it will never show on your phone bill. iMessage is quick and easy, making it great to quickly get in touch with your friends. Conversations can sometimes start on iMessage and spread to other apps, for example, one child might ask the other: “What to play on Snapchat?” (an app we will cover in our next post). iMessage can be turned off in the Settings on your ‘iDevice’.


Kik Messenger is available on both Apple and Android devices, and needs to be downloaded from the relevant app store (iTunes or Google Play). This is a key difference as it means you can message anyone with the app, not just friends with an Apple device.

Conversations that start on more public social media sites might cross over to Kik, when users decide they don’t want so public an audience for what they are saying. Kids will often advertise their Kik username on social media sites, such as Instagram, with the words ‘Kik me @…..’ (inserting their username), meaning ‘message me’. Being so open about their username allows almost anyone to contact them, which quickly makes a ‘private’ messaging service anything but.

One thing that parents often don’t understand is the nature of the messaging that happens on apps such as these. Parents (as a general age group) tend to most commonly message one person at a time, and this is usually done when you have something specific to tell that person. My wife messages me to say ‘bring milk and bread home’ etc. Tweens and teens message multiple people at once, and do so regularly, whether they have something specific to say or not.  This means you can have any number of people involved in a message exchange unsupervised by adults that has no guiding purpose to it. In our experience this is a recipe for disaster and very frequently ends in tears or worse. We’ve found that students can quickly find themselves involved in conversations with friends that have invited friends who have then invited their friends. Pretty soon they may be talking to 18 different people and only know 3 or 4 of them. Therefore, you might consider these apps more like chat room facilitators than private message services.

The nature of this type of group messaging is that conversations can quickly spiral out of control as things are said that children don’t know how to handle. If someone is mean to someone else in an online group situation, it can be a very distressing experience for the victim. Unfortunately group mentality can often kick in, with others in the group jumping on the wagon of giving the victim a hard time, and those that may have usually stepped in to stop the mean statements in a ‘real life’ setting staying quiet because they’re not too sure how to respond. To exacerbate matters, children are often unsure how to ‘leave’ a chat that may be making them uncomfortable, with all messages still popping up as notifications on their device long after they wanted to leave the conversation.

As you may be gathering, even though many parents have expressed to us that they see message services as harmless, unfortunately the practical result of children messaging anyone and everyone without adult knowledge is generally negative, and teachers very regularly have to pick up the emotional pieces as students return to school the next day.

Kik recently raised the minimum user age from 13 to 17 years of age. As we’ve said often, it is our recommendation that Primary aged students should NOT be using apps such as this, and that parents should reinforce to their children the age requirements and have a conversation about why those restrictions may be in place. It might be helpful to relate it to other ‘real world’ things, such as drinking alcohol, or driving a car. These activities aren’t bad in themselves, but society has imposed an age limit because people under that age may not have the capacity to deal with the potential situations/dangers that may arise when doing them.

When it comes to these type of social apps, as parents we walk a difficult line between protecting our children from harmful situations and isolating them socially. For example, if all your child’s friends are conducting most of their social interactions on iMessage, then a simple ban on using the app will cause your child to feel isolated and cut off from what is going on, which may have negative consequences for them socially and be emotionally distressing for them in itself.

Once again, there is no substitute for a good relationship with your child, and regular ‘co-viewing’ sessions. If you build up trust with your child, then hopefully they are happy to sit with you and discuss the types of conversations that are going on online, both positive and negative, and you can guide them in how they navigate their own course through the different situations that arise. Begin with allowing your child to look through your own online interactions with you (as long as they’re appropriate) from a junior Primary age, and as they grow older they will have learned lots about how what people say online reflects on people’s perceptions of them as a person, as well as how it impacts the people they post it to.
NEXT WEEK: Part 2 – Instagram and Snapchat

Facebook ‘dead and buried’ with teens (or, why ‘spying on’ or ‘friending’ your child online is not the answer)


Early 90s ‘Air Jordans’

In the mid-90s, sports shoe makers had a big problem. For years, sneakers had been their biggest sellers, with models such as Nike’s ‘Air Jordan’ and Reebok’s ‘Pump’ being wildly popular with teenagers, not just for playing sport, but as a fashion statement as well. But all of a sudden, kids stopped buying them. Shoes that were only very recently highly desired items for teenagers became fashion poison, almost overnight.

So what happened? In short, sneakers became so popular that even parents started going out and buying them.  And once parents started wearing them, that was the end of them being ‘cool’. If mum and dad are wearing a pair of Nikes down to the shops, their kids hardly want to be seen in the same.

Within months, 'Vans' were the coolest thing on the block

Within months, ‘Vans’ were the coolest thing on the block

This situation brought on the rise of the ‘skate shoe’. Skate shoes had existed for years, but their popularity had been limited to the skateboarding community (hence the name), and therefore were seen as ‘alternative’, and so were perfectly placed to become the next ‘cool’ thing for teenagers. Within a matter of months, ‘Vans’ had replaced ‘Nike’ as the shoe to be seen in.

So why are we talking about shoes when this is meant to be a post about Facebook? Put simply: all this is exactly what appears to be happening to Facebook.

The recent Global Social Media Impact Study in Europe observed those aged 16 to 18 in eight countries for 15 months and found Facebook use was in sharp decline.  It claimed that Facebook was “not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried” and that young people now see the site as “uncool”, mainly because, you guessed it, their parents and older relatives are now using it.

Professor Daniel Miller of University College London said, “Where once parents worried about their children joining Facebook, the children now say it is their family that insists they stay there to post about their lives. Parents have worked out how to use the site and see it as a way for the family to remain connected. In response, the young are moving on to cooler things.”

This study has since been challenged by those producing data that shows the majority of young people still have active Facebook accounts. That may be true, but the people arguing this are missing perhaps the most important point of what this report found. And its particularly important for parents.

The study did not say that young people weren’t using Facebook at all. If found that it was being used very differently by teenagers to how it was a few years ago. Facebook is now used by teenagers as a way to stay in touch with older members of their family or siblings or friends that were overseas, rather than a platform to engage in social interaction with their mates.

In other words, just like with shoes, parents are ‘onto’ Facebook, and so their kids are ‘onto’ the next thing. And just like with shoes, the next thing has already taken over.

In our next post, we’ll look at some of the ‘next things’, such as Instagram and Snapchat. In the meantime, the important point to note out of all of this is that ‘friending’ your child on Facebook does not mean you know what they ‘get up to online’.

I’ve had many parents, when I’ve been discussing cybersafety, say confidently that they either ‘spy’ on their child’s Facebook account or make their child ‘friend’ them, and therefore they know everything they are doing and saying online. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In most cases, parents haven’t even heard of the social networks their children are ‘really’ using. In other cases, they may have discovered the ‘next thing’, but are are being duped by ‘fake’ accounts that their child has set up. Last year, in a survey of our year 5 and 6 students, we found that not only were a large number of them using the photo sharing site Instagram, but that many had more than one account. Not surprisingly, this second (or even third!) account was news to their parents.

Like all the posts on this blog, this one is not designed to shock or scare, but merely to ensure parents are informed and are putting into place effective strategies to help keep their children safe, not falling into the trap of thinking that ‘spying on’ or ‘friending’ their child is the answer.

Because just like in the fashion world, when parents ‘arrive’, kids quickly move onto something else!