Water and Technology don’t go together. Or do they?

Parenting with technology is hard and it’s a new frontier. It’s not something we can really ask our own parents for advice on because it hasn’t existed before in the same pervasive way it does today. Therefore I find it can help to relate it to something we do know about and which we may be more confident with in our parenting.

The most helpful metaphor I’ve found is probably water safety. There are many similarities between what you do as a parent to ensure your child is safe around water and what you can be doing as a parent to ensure your child grows up being safe online.

  • Education starts from as young as possible with the parent and child in the water together.

It’s generally accepted by both water safety experts and technology experts that starting education at the earliest age possible is beneficial. We want to ‘normalise’ the experience of being in water for very young children so that they are familiar with it and see it as a positive thing. We also want them to know as early as possible what to do if they happen to accidentally find themselves in trouble in the water so they can take measures to return themselves to safety.

Online safety is no different. The strategy of trying to restrict your child from using any technology until they are much older is as silly as trying to avoid water for their entire childhood. In fact, even sillier, as at least pools have fences around them.

pool 1

We wouldn’t even consider banning children from using swimming pools until they’re ‘old enough’

pool 2

Shared experiences from the earliest age is the best policy

Having said that, you would never just throw your child into a pool unsupervised. Technology is no different. It’s important to be ‘present’ with your child as they begin to use technology, just like being in the water with your toddler for their first swimming lessons. You need to guide them and begin to show them at the earliest of ages how to use a device in a safe and responsible way, and also what to do if they find themselves in a tricky or uncomfortable situation.

It is now common place for children from about 18 months to be using their parents’ smart phones and tablets, but not as common for parents to be actively monitoring this or guiding their child through the use of the device. Kids are often left to their own exploration with the benefit to the parent that it is keeping the child occupied in a waiting room or during a dinner outing.

This is the very first point at which a child’s use of technology starts to become somewhat of a mystery to the parent. If parents of toddlers don’t know exactly what their child is ‘getting up to’ on an electronic device, imagine what the state of play will be by the time that child is 12 years old.

  • Never leave a child unattended near water.

Once again, you’d never leave your child alone near water, and the same should apply with technology. It should be used only in common areas where you can monitor what is happening regularly. Kids with technology in bedrooms is never safe. It’s not about how responsible your child is or isn’t. Children cannot always know the full consequences of what they are doing online. They need guidance and consistent monitoring in order to be safe.

  • Seek advice on whether a body of water is safe before you let your children swim in it.

We drill our kids to only swim between the flags at the beach. This is not only because that is where the beach is being monitored by Life Savers, but also because you know that section of the ocean has been declared the safest place to swim by an expert that has come to the beach before you and checked everything out. Once again, online safety is no different. If you’re not sure whether a particular program is safe for your child to be using, then do the necessary checks to ensure it is.  Don’t know anything about Minecraft? Look it up. Read about it. Talk to your child about it. Sit with your child as they use it and get them to explain to you what they are doing. Play it yourself! Do everything you can to be as informed as possible about what your children are doing online. It’s not always easy, especially if you are not naturally ‘tech savvy’, but it is extremely important.  Some people I talk to are very proud of the fact that they are not using programs such as Facebook as they consider them to be ‘stupid’ and a ‘waste of time’. That’s fine as a personal opinion. But if your child is using it, you need to sign up straight away and get to know what it’s all about.

  • Water can be dangerous, but swimming in it isn’t a ‘bad’ thing to let your child do

There is a stigma around children and technology use that can negatively impact on our effectiveness as parents. Parents can feel bad about letting their children play on a device because they have some idea that it’s ‘not good for them’. This often doesn’t change the fact that their child uses the device regularly. Being almost in denial of the fact that technology use is happening in the first place can mean that you haven’t properly planned out your parenting strategy, let alone the related safety concepts you want to teach your children.

Technology is not a bad thing, and it in fact can be a very positive and educational thing for children to be using, as long as it’s age appropriate, in moderation and with the right supervision. Accept that technology will be part of your child’s everyday life and begin to plan in an active way to guide their use and educate them about it, just as you do with swimming.

Forming a positive relationship around technology with your child as early as possible, where you are actively involved and interested in what they are doing, will be the best thing to set you up to effectively support them during their teenage years.

Sharing Photos Online

In our last post we looked at Geotagging and the importance of making sure when you post photos online you are not inadvertently sharing a whole lot more information about yourself than you might have realized.

This week I wanted to continue the theme of sharing photos online because it is now the most common thing that children and young adults do on social networks. There are a lot of factors to consider before sharing a photo, or even sending it to just one other person.

One important point for our children to realize is that as soon as they send a photo to even one other person, the choice about whether that item stays ‘private’ or not is no longer only with them. The privacy of the picture is now also dependent upon the person you sent that picture to. Effectively, as soon as you send a photo to anyone, it is out of your control what happens to it.

That’s why considering a whole range of factors before you share a photo, either with one person or one hundred, is very important.

The poster below is a great guide for older students (and parents) to help them make considered and informed decisions before sharing any photos online, particularly those that include other people. It comes to us from ‘Common Sense Media’.

Geotagging – What it is and why it’s important for every parent to know about

Geotagging refers to the information that a ‘smart device’ such as a phone, tablet or digital camera stores each time you take a photo or video.

We all need to be aware that whenever we take a photograph or video, information such as our geographical location, date and time, and the camera settings we used, is almost always embedded in the digital files of that photograph or video.

This identification data is usually stored as ‘metadata’ in what is called an EXIF file, as part of your digital photograph.

This is a great feature, because instead of having to label every photo with where and when it was taken, it’s all done automatically for you. With software like iPhoto, you can even view all your photos on a map of the world, seeing all your travels in a brilliantly visual way.

So what’s the problem?

When people share photos online, they often don’t fully understand all the information they’re potentially sharing.

Sharing photos online has exploded in popularity over the last couple of years. Social network sites such as Facebook and Instagram make it really easy to upload photos and share them with friends. Young people today share their photos frequently and almost automatically, on any number of social networks.

On most Instagram accounts for example, a stranger can pull up a map and see the exact location, date and time of every photo that the Instagram user has posted. That would mean that complete strangers can get a very clear picture of their lives. The information could show them where the child goes to school, where they live, where they play sport on the weekend, when and where they go on holidays, where their friend’s house is etc etc.

As always, if you are informed about the problem, you can take measures to be safe:

  • If you allow your children to have any sort of social network account where they share photos, ensure that you make them aware of the information that is potentially attached to the photos they are sharing.
  • Investigate with your child the policy of the social network they use in regards to geotagging. At the time of writing, Facebook strips the EXIF data from uploaded photos and gives people the option of turning on or off geotagging when users make a post. Instagram automatically stores the data and makes it available to any user. Go into the settings of the account and turn this feature off.
  • There should be a settings option on every phone and tablet device that allows you to turn off geotagging of photos taken with that device. (On an iPhone or iPad go to ‘Settings’, ‘General’, ‘Location Services’)
  • Ensure any social network account that you set up is set to ‘Private’
  • Discuss with your child the importance of not ‘friending’ people they don’t know. Doing this negates any safety gained from making an account private. We have had students in Level 4 with over 1000 ‘friends’ on Instagram!

Once again, Kalinda recommends that parents follow the legal age guidelines of social network sites and not allow children under 13 to be using them. It is a lack of understanding around issues such as this that can be potentially dangerous for them.