Kids today grow up using technology from a very early age. A recent survey conducted by NetSafe and AVG indicates that a quarter of children have online births before their real ones, with parents uploading antenatal scans online and creating email addresses and social network pages for their babies. Furthermore, the study revealed that many children aged two to five could use a mobile phone before they could ride a bike and could perform an online search before learning to swim!
With technology becoming such an important part of our lives, it is unreasonable, and in fact detrimental to your child’s education, to try to prevent them from interacting with it. That being said, it is extremely important to take an active role in this interaction, controlling your child’s usage at first and then continuing to monitor them as they grow older, especially in the case of the internet. Here, we help you guide your child safely through their journey with technology and the world wide web.
DIFFERENT AGES AND STAGES
First, it is important to differentiate between children of different age groups. With young, primary aged children, parents should be a direct participant in online activities, spending time exploring the internet and using the computer together. Intermediate aged children should be given more independence, but should still be expected to turn to parents as a reference point, asking for permission to visit certain websites or engage in certain activities. By the time children reach high school, you want them to be completely independent and capable of making informed, intelligent decisions on their own. You can’t expect to monitor everything your teen does online (or in the real world!) but you can expect them to act reasonably and safely if you have assisted and educated them about the internet up until this point.
SOCIAL NETWORKING FOR KIDS
With social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter becoming such an important and all-encompassing part of our society, it is natural for children to want to experiment. If you allow your child to do so (which is encouraged) try to choose a website that is kid-friendly. Facebook, for example, would not be the place to start. In fact, Facebook has a policy that no one under 13 use their site, and they actually monitor this more closely than you might think. The company uses tracking technology to analyse speech patterns and behaviour on Facebook, which helps them determine if a young child is using the site. The problem is that this program is tailored to American children and American speech patterns, so it won’t be as effective here in New Zealand, plus there is a good chance that even American children could slip through the cracks unnoticed.
Some great kid friendly sites to consider are Anne’s Diary or Club Penguin. These sites are built for kids to learn social networking in a safe environment. It’s still important, however, to monitor your child’s usage of these sites. For example, although some of these kid’s sites monitor language, rejecting swear or inappropriate words, many older children found ways around it by typing suggestive things such as, "stick your long giraffe in my fluffy bunny.” This just goes to show that parents should not rely on these sites alone, and should still be involved in the process.
GAMES AND GUIDELINES
Another example of why it is important for parents to be present and active in their child’s computer time is that young children often use the computer to play games. When pop-up boxes appear (whether they are ads, viruses or an important update from your computer), many children know that to make the box go away they need just click "enter”, and they will do so without actually reading or understanding what the pop-up means.
Some great ways to get involved in your child’s technological education is by setting parental controls on your computer and internet. Additionally, we recommend allocating a specific amount of "computer time” for your child and then remaining in the room during this time, not only to keep an eye on things but also so your child can come to you easily with any questions or concerns that may arise.