Research carried out by Childwise, the leading specialist in research with children and young people, recently revealed that on average 7-16 year olds spend 3 hours per day online, which jumps to 4.8 hours per day for 15-16 year olds. uSwitch also recently quoted figures from the National Literacy Trust which suggests that ‘86 per cent of school-age children own a mobile phone, and the age at which kids get a phone of their own is getting younger and younger’.
When children have such high levels of technological autonomy, it’s not surprising that some dangers go unnoticed by parents or teachers. But, it’s important for you to be as aware as possible. Ask them questions. Often. And sure, they’ll think you’re being nosey, overprotective, annoying adults: but as ‘Uncle Buck’ star, Macaulay Culkin might (now) say, ‘I’m an adult, that’s my job!’
For example, find out what social networking sites they are using. While most parents are probably familiar with Facebook and Twitter, what many of them may not know is that in order to register with these sites, users are legally required to be over 13 years of age. However, there is no stringent verification system in place to prove the age of Facebook users. Parents and teachers (where possible) should ensure that children are old enough to register for these sites, and also monitor their activity on them. Find out who their friends are, what groups they belong to, what type of information they post, and so on. Parents should also ensure that they are ‘friends’ with their younger children on Facebook, so they are kept in the loop at all times.
It’s also important for parents and teachers to be aware of the ‘warning signs of cyberbullying’. Helpguide.org has published a really useful, quick reference guide for teachers (and parents) on its website for spotting the signs of cyberbullying. Kidscape.org also lists a number of tell-tale signs that could indicate whether a child is being bullied. Together, both sites ask, for example, does your child or student seem sad, angry, distressed or anxious during or after using the Internet or mobile; become secretive about computer or mobile activities; show changes in mood, behaviour, sleep, appetite; or display signs of anxiety?
Answering ‘yes’ to one or more of the questions suggests they may be a victim of cyberbullying (or indeed any form of bullying) and encourages parents or teachers to investigate things further.
Those in authorative roles need to be more vigilant than ever before when it comes to monitoring children’s technology use. While technological devices are fantastic learning tools, they do need to be effectively monitored…especially when in little hands.