The internet is an incredible resource that gives our children access to a world of knowledge at their fingertips. They can use it to communicate with teachers, keep in touch with friends, carry out in-depth research, submit homework on time and play interactive games. While we should encourage children to enjoy and benefit from the positives that digital technologies offer, children also need to be taught the responsibilities that come with such boundless possibilities.
The Center for Cyber Safety and Education conducted research with US children in grades 4-8 that revealed 21 percent are visiting sites where they can chat with strangers and 62 percent went to adult websites after internet searches – the struggle to protect our children’s innocence is real! To tip the scales in favour of positive online experiences and appropriate interactions, we need to take a proactive approach to understanding and monitoring our children’s behaviour online and their development in today’s fast-changing technological landscape. – Jennifer Marshall
Should your child be on social media?
Although an Instagram post of a funny face or WhatsApp messages between friends might seem harmless, the fact is that social media platforms sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Vine, Path and YouTube all have age restrictions, starting at 13 years of age. These are set for a reason and if you allow your child access, you have to expect that they will be open to viewing age-inappropriate content. If you do decide to allow your child access to social media, share an account with them so that you can monitor messages and make consequences clear if they set up a ‘fake account’ to dodge your watchful eye!
Cyber bullying, which includes sending, posting or sharing negative, harmful or false content through cell phones, the internet or email is, sadly, a common occurrence on social media platforms. Ditch the Label, one of the largest global anti-bullying organisations, conducted a study of more than 10,000 youths in the UK.
Ways to monitor:
Familiarise yourself with the apps your children are using and check in with them to ensure nothing untoward is going on with their peers.
Keep an honest channel of communication with your child and let your child know that you will be checking messages on a random basis.
Take an interest in your child’s online activities and let them know there are resources available to support them if they are confronted with information they don’t understand or that might endanger them.
Children may also be drawn to forums, or chat rooms, that are set up online for people interested in a particular subject such as a video game or favourite movie. These places are popular for kids and teens as people can communicate with each other alone or in a group.
However, these sites can pose hazards for kids. No one knows how common chat room predators are but paedophiles have been known to frequent them with the aim of building a rapport with a child and exploiting them. Paedophiles often pose as teenagers and may ask for personal information which puts the children or families at risk. Alternatively, some have encouraged children to call them – once this happens caller ID will instantly give your child’s phone number.
Ensure you know who your child is chatting to online and what they are telling them. Children can often give away too much information without realising it – for example, checking in online, (and giving away their location) through posting photos, status updates and throw away comments. Insist on being ‘introduced’ to any new friends your child meets online and take them seriously if they inform you of an uncomfortable online exchange.
It is also important to stay up-to-date with gaming trends and not to rely on age restrictions given by manufacturers. The interactive nature of games varies greatly – check in now and then to see how players treat each other online. Some games will filter inappropriate language for example, or there are ways that your child can limit who they allow to play with them to people they recognise and know. Ensure your child creates a screen name that is not related to their real identity and teach them how to bar people who may be treating them badly.
Many kids love video games and it can often be difficult to drag your child from the screen when they are on the verge of reaching the ‘next level’. Although some educational apps might motivate a child to reach certain milestones (those pesky times tables come to mind), more time spent at a screen generally equates to less time spent in active play and socialising with friends and a myriad of health problems have been linked to screen over-use and inactivity.
Moderation is the key. Many experts recommend an absolute limit on playing games and limiting screen time (which includes TVs, computer, smartphones and video games combined) to no more than two hours a day.
In deciding on your own family’s limits, experts suggest focusing on what your children are doing online rather than how long they are online. This of course means that their use may depend very much on the time you have to monitor and supervise their activity. Installing child friendly search engines and browsers under a dedicated login for the children is a good back-up for those times when you might not be around to supervise. Establishing tech-free times and zones, such as at the dinner table or in bedrooms, and keeping your computer in a high-traffic area of the home also creates user-friendly boundaries.
According to a US study undertaken by Common Sense Media, whilst children’s overall screen time has remained steady over the last four years (at 2 1/4 hours) children are spending much more time on small screens and mobile devices. A group of parents in Austin, Texas started an online pledge last year calling on parents to delay giving their kids a smartphone until the end of middle school (Grade 7). If you are a parent who is feeling pressured to give your child a phone, ask around and you may find you are not alone. It is often the case that a phone really isn’t necessary beyond having the ability to make a call for last minute changes in schedule or unforeseen circumstances. So far, a few thousand families across the US have taken the pledge, perhaps it’s time Cayman parents took a similar stand?
Mobile Devices and WiFi capability
If your child has a smartphone with WiFi capability it is imperative to implement parental controls to ensure surfing is restricted to age-appropriate content when your child is out and about. Use parental controls which allow you to:
Get to know your iOS Parental Controls – you can enable restrictions on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch which prevent your child from using specific features, applications and accessing certain types of content on their device. These protections can all prevent your child accessing inappropriate websites, language, pictures or videos.
Internet service providers also provide parent-control options and software is available which enables you to block access to certain sites. Filtering programmes can block sites from coming in through pop-up advertisements and restrict personal information from being sent online. There are also programmes which can monitor online activity and even send you alerts as to which sites your child has been visiting or emails they have received.
Technology is essential to our everyday lives and communications, and it goes without saying that children need to learn the relevant skills to traverse the tech space effectively and safely. Teaching your child the importance of online safety is by far the most important task on your agenda when allowing them to embrace the internet – so much so that we’ve devoted a wealth of information relating solely to this below. Once your child becomes familiar with the keyboard and basic computing functions and commands you can begin to teach them them to these other important skills.
Teaching your child appropriate internet etiquette and social conventions.
Finding information in the online sphere can often feel like looking for a needle in a haystack! As your child progresses through his or her educational journey, navigating the web thoroughly and having the ability to efficiently extract data from the web will help them in their studies, assignments and time management. Let your child explore the internet, with the appropriate safeguards in place, so that they learn skills that are invaluable to their future.
Schools are increasingly adopting computers into their classrooms and it is important for children to learn to create, edit, modify and format documents using the Office Suite programme. They will also become familiar with email as they progress into upper school, with some Cayman primary and secondary schools already incorporating a school-based email programme through which children can communicate with teachers and submit homework or questions.
Your child’s information and technology education will develop gradually from learning how to use technology safely and respectfully, to focusing on analysing programmes and algorithms, using technology to create, organise, search and store digital content, understanding computer networks and learning how information technology is commonly used in day to day life. By supporting your child in their learning, you will go a long way toward avoiding some of the negative forces at work on the web and enable them to manage their own safety on the internet whilst exploring its vast resources.
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