Could we be modeling to our kids the very behaviours we say we hate?

Cartoon by PC Vey

Cartoon by PC Vey

Renata Rowe, author of the blog icybersafe.com, related the following story recently:

I am driving.  I see Dad begin to cross the road, head down, children laughing and depending on Dad to guide them – he is not there, buried instead in his email, or Instagram or whatever.  I slow to a stop, Dad lifts his gaze for a millisecond, acknowledges me in a kind of vacant glazed way, and head goes down again to his phone. Kids cross the road, oblivious.  My 12 year old, says witheringly, ‘And adults complain about our screen time!’

I’m sure we can all relate to witnessing some sort of scene such as this. This begs the question, are we as parents becoming just as obsessed with our mobile devices as our children? And in doing so, are we modelling to them the very behaviour we say we hate?

During the last September school holidays, a group of Sunshine Coast tourism operators and businesses released a mobile phone ‘Code of Conduct’ for tourists visiting the region. This is believed to be the first of its sort anywhere in the world. The Smarter Smartphone Code of Conduct will soon be displayed on everything from coasters, in taxis and on bedside tables in hotels across the Sunshine Coast. Tourism operators say the code is needed to help visitors make the “most of the moment”. They say they are sick of seeing people walking around staring at their phone their entire holiday instead of taking in the beautiful views.

A study by Galaxy Research, commissioned by Tourism and Events Queensland, found that 50 per cent of Australians believe they could not live 24 hours without their smartphone, while 65 per cent keep their phone within arms reach all day, every day. Eighty per cent of people surveyed said they had had a conversation with someone who was texting at the same time. And more than 45 per cent of Australians said they had argued with their partner over their phone use.

The phenomenon of teenagers living their lives through social networks on their phones is well established. There seems little doubt that this is spreading more and more to parents.

When I was doing some research last year to investigate the benefit of Kalinda Primary beginning its own Facebook page, we discovered that Facebook’s biggest user demographic is not teenagers, but woman in their 30s.  75% of mums in Australia use Facebook every day. The average age of a Facebook user is 38! The average age of a Primary School parent is 39.

Rather than just shaking our heads at the ‘younger generation’, it seems the time has come where we need to question our own phone and social media use as parents.

So take some time to think: what sort of phone/social media use are you modelling to your children? Do you spend too much time looking at your phone? Do you model appropriate ‘phone etiquette’ (for example, not answering a message in the middle of dinner or while having a face to face conversation with someone)? When you use social networks, do you know how to keep yourself safe? Have you set your accounts to a safe level of privacy? Do you take due diligence when deciding what photos to share with the world?

Every teacher knows that modelling certain behaviours is the most powerful way to influence a child’s behaviour. So, with our own phone/social network use as parents, are we modelling all the behaviours we hope our children will adopt when they reach their peak of phone/social network use? Or are we fast adopting the behaviours many of us say we hate?

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.

Where to begin? 3 Key Tips to get started

As mentioned in the ‘About’ section, this blog aims to provide parents with information relating to cybersafety issues and ICT in general. In this post we will look at the issue of trying to keep up with and monitor what your children are up to online.

It is extremely important that parents monitor their children’s internet use, but also guide them in a positive and informed way about how to use it safely and responsibly. Easier said than done? Absolutely. But here are 3 points to follow that we can get you started on the journey:

  • Keep devices out of bedrooms. Ensure that your children only use internet enabled devices, such as iPods, phones and tablets in shared areas of the house. This benefits you in 2 ways:
    • it makes it easier for you to monitor what programs they are using and who they are communicating with
    • it ensures that children are not up late at night using the device when they should be sleeping. Our teachers often deal with incidents that happen between students on iPod Touches online late at night, when both sets of parents assumed their children were asleep. The other thing to bare in mind is that research is consistently showing that using a backlit device, such as an iPod Touch, close to bedtime inhibits the body’s ability to sleep, which in turn directly impacts the child’s ability to learn at school.
  • Agree on ground rules and set usage times in advance. Ensure that there is a clear understanding with your children about the periods of time in which they can use their devices. Agree as a family about the consequences of misuse. Allowing children to spend hours and hours on a device is not healthy. Suddenly telling your children they have to get off their devices or that they’re banned from them without warning can cause arguments and lead to children rightly or wrongly feeling they are being treated unfairly. The best method is to set usage times and ground rules in advance so that your children know they have a certain window of time on the device, and then when the time is up they will need to get off and do something else. They will also be clear on the behaviours expected of them while using the device.
  • Engage in ‘co-viewing’. From the earliest age, take an interest in what your children are doing online. Engage in positive talk about it, and also take the opportunities to educate them about potential traps or dangers, such as purchasing items or engaging in social chat within games. We always advise that Primary students are too young to be on social networks such as Facebook or Instagram. If you choose to allow your child to create an account on a social network, or in fact any age appropriate game or website, ensure you also sit with them to set the account up. Remember, you are as responsible for their safety online as you are in the real world. You wouldn’t throw them in a swimming pool without ensuring first that they had learnt to swim! The internet is exactly the same. Learn together how to make the account private, set a complex password that can’t be ‘guessed’ or ‘hacked’, turn off photo geo-location permissions that can track where your child is. If you don’t know how to do these things don’t allow your child to set up an account until you find out. A quick search on You Tube or Google will usually provide you with the information you need.Once the account is set up, regularly view the interactions on the social network or game with your child, rather than spying on them, as this allows you to share in what is happening and to guide them in a trusting and positive way.  This approach is also less likely to lead to children wanting to hide things from spying parents, or parents that they perceive as always being ‘negative’ about the technology, or who ‘just don’t get it’, as they get older. Building a positive relationship around technology use is incredibly important, because it means if something goes wrong down the line, your child is more likely to feel comfortable coming to talk to you about it rather than hiding it away.