In the modern world of technology, how do we keep our children safe without demonizing the thing that has brought us all together in this big world of ours? I grew up in a time when there was no internet; yes, that time actually existed and I made it through.
Children and young people need to find their way in life, unfortunately, sometimes whilst doing this, they can demonstrate cruel and abusive behaviour. Don’t think that the cruel, sometimes evil comments on social media are a new thing, there were plenty of young people and adults who were just as capable of saying cruel things face to face. Yes, it was nice to be able to go home and hide from it, but in our heads, we didn’t hide, we played the comments over and over, believed them, said them out loud until the last threads of self-esteem slid away. But there was less opportunity to hear the good stuff; the kind comments, the comments that build you up. I think that people find it awkward and sometimes embarrassing to give compliments to people’s faces, but hiding behind the phone, tablet, computer screen, makes it so much easier to boost people, we hear what other people are doing through the medium of social media, be it true or false, or maybe bigged up, we still comment and compliment them. It makes people feel good to read it and it feels quite nice doing it too.
I got into blogging because I wanted to write, but I was also conscious that I was falling behind with technology since leaving an office environment. I wanted to get more clued up on what was out there, I’ve already added a few new websites to my favourites and got some new apps on the phone. I now need to demonstrate safe internet activity to my children, then find out more and understand what they are getting into. That is my choice and the way I want to handle it, it’s not everyone cup of tea and they are no less aware for it. How you find awareness for you and your child is your choice; but please do it. It is a sad world; we are all too aware of some of the evils that lurk around the corners, we can’t hide our children forever, as one day they will need to protect themselves. They need the education and awareness that we will teach them to ‘stay safe’
Facebook / Snap Chat / Twitter – all those social chat sites
I choose to expose my children to social media under my supervision. At 6 and 8 they are beginning to be curious as they hear more and more from friends, and hear mention on TV programmes. We use Facebook together, through my account, but it is heavily monitored and I am still to decide on when they get their own accounts. They watch the kitten, hamster, or whatever the generic cute animal video of the day is; they check the posts of their own pictures and they get to see pictures of friends who we don’t see very often. My profile is very private (I’ve even set up a fake profile so that I can regularly check in on what none friends see, bit over the top maybe, but it just gave me that little bit of security in the knowledge I am not sharing our pics to none friends) I am currently trying to explain to the girls that the powers that be, behind FB, are quite controlling over what we see, so our friends might not always get to the see the posts and like, or comment on them. I realised a little while ago that the girls were getting hung up on counting the likes. I am really glad we have discovered this so young, so that I have time to explain to them that Facebook is just for fun and by no means a measure of our popularity. The last thing I want is for them to build up their ‘friend’ numbers to make themselves feel popular. It will be a slow process of educating them. FB may not be around when they hit their teens, but we can guarantee there will be something similar.
We use Snapchat for fun; they have no idea that they can send their pictures to other people and often ask me to post the pics on Facebook. They are more into pictures than words, so they check out Instagram, but so far, they haven’t picked up on what it’s all about. I am not a great user of Twitter and they are much too young to really care about that one. They are allowed to message Daddy and other family member, but not without me watching over them. They are desperate for their own phones, but purely to play games and take photos, they really don’t care about communicating with the outside world yet. I am dreading the time that we have to talk about what is appropriate in a message, but hopefully by the time it is necessary, they will have some idea of the negative side of internet access. That way we can achieve a healthy balance between having fun, but also being cautious.
We have the age restriction setting on YouTube; so, they are allowed to watch that solo, but I frequently check in on their activity. To be honest I can usually hear the Peppa Pig theme tune blaring out, so I know we are pretty safe – don’t ask me why they still watch Peppa Pig at their age, but I love that they do and long may the innocence last. In the early days of their YouTube journey, there was an incident with a Charlie and Lola video that had been changed to a Halloween version, luckily, we spotted it quite quickly. Put us off for a while though, so we waited for them to be a little older before we left them alone with it again; I still blame Dad for that one! I have a pet hate for the bizarre videos of adults demonstrating playing with toys; kids are fascinated by them, but I banned them. Why are these people playing with toys and making videos of it, they always have really annoying voices too …. Apologies if you are one of these video makers, sorry they are just not for me. So being the mean Mummy I am, they were banned and weirdly the children have stuck with this ban, without question. We had lots of chats about why they concerned me and apparently, they took it on board. I always explain my reasons.
YouTube has been really useful on their learning journey; they still love Geraldine The Giraffe doing her phonics, we learned to do the dab and our times tables using the many educational channels out there. It can be a fantastic learning tool for both young and old.
Now I heard that my Year 3 daughter had a talk about Fake News yesterday; I didn’t actually get any information out of her, but she seemed quite interested in it all. I am a great believer in that most news has a biased spin on it, fake or not fake, we sometimes need to hear more than one side to the story. I am working to teach my children to listen to other people’s opinions and versions of events. I often explain that what we read, or hear, may not be true. Whatever I read on FB, I seek out other sources just to check how true it might be. This is something they can learn through example and modelled behaviour; if they see us lapping up the gossip news and believing it, they will do the same. Read the gossip, enjoy it, laugh at it, but remember to tell them that it might not be all that it seems and is only one person’s version of events.
Photos and Imaging
This is a big one for me as I have spent my life being heavily influenced by the pictures of the beautiful people and trying to attain a perfection that just was not there for me. I have body image issues, but whether they are related to those images of perfection or not, I will never know. I am really lucky to have two beautiful daughters who are a healthy weight and despite a slight sugar addiction, are highly unlikely to ever be overweight. I work hard to build confidence in their appearance and talk about makeup being a nice to have, not a need to have. I enjoy photography and am careful not to filter their pictures. I will eventually highlight the difference between photos filtered and not filtered. I am not yet in that place where we need to talk intimate photos, but for now I will just continue to build on their self-respect and educate as we go. Using Snapchat is a great way to highlight how filters really alter a ‘real’ image; it’s fun but not a true representation. They love filming random videos, but for now they are for personal consumption, I have not allowed any on Facebook; when I do, I will ensure they understand they must check with me and the others in the videos first.
Google – Other search engines are available!
Children ask endless questions; gone are the days when we could just make up a quick answer and they would go away happy; in our house, one question leads to another and another and another, until I am left wondering the answers myself. I used to say; “I don’t know, I will have to Google it.” Now they are learning how to Google themselves, but I still get the comment, “Google it Mummy!” on a regular basis. In my endless quest for knowledge on behalf of me and my children, I would be lost without Google. It is something DD1 has been learning to use at school and I know she will now be exposed to those sites that pop up when you least expect them, there will be questions about words and images she sees, but there will also be a world of information at her fingertips. They have started using Google Earth and are fascinated by it, “What country do you want to look at today Mummy?” They did struggle with spelling Venezuela though!
Gaming and Educational Sites
Gaming is not an area I am familiar with, all those years ago, I tried Tomb Raider and couldn’t even get out of the practice bit. I can just about manage the Wii racing games, but even then, I spend more time facing the wrong way, or being upside down, than racing. There are games consoles in our house, but mostly, all the children want to do is play games on tablets with the occasional bit of Wii action. They tried Minecraft, but between us we couldn’t get very far, so we resorted to Candy Crush and they seem happy. Games are brilliant for improving coordination and learning problem solving; I limit the time and ensure the content is age appropriate, but I am all for the experience in moderation. The schools all sign up to online education sites; our current one is Purple Mash, learning through play is such a brilliant tool. If they want to play Purple Mash, then who am I to stop their learning. We stop ‘blue screen’ time before bath and they get at least an hour, if not more before bed without it. It is always a book at bedtime, just to keep it old school.
It is my job to hover in the background, whatever they are doing on the phone, tablet, laptop, game consoles, keep a check, but let them learn and be independent. They need to learn to assess a situation, decide on what is appropriate, learn to respect themselves and others, but most of all be free to have fun and learn.