As the parent of two young children, I’m often in conversation with other adults about the ways kids use technology. We sometimes feel a bit out of our depth and almost intimated by the boundless confidence our children exhibit when engaging with games, apps and social media. However daunted we might feel, we can’t sit King Cnut-like against the tide of computing innovation in our children’s lives: active participation is our best, our only, constructive strategy.
A while ago I wrote some thoughts on underage gaming and more recently I’ve been talking to grown-ups about how we can support our children’s digital lives. Here are some of those ideas.
Top tips for supporting your child’s use of technology
1. Understand controls, filters & locks
All mobiles, tablets and applications like Google and YouTube have family-friendly settings – think about how your device is set up.
Vodaphone’s Digital Parenting site has some excellent How-To guides including setting up your mobile phone and tablet.
2. Consider the cost – free is rarely so
In-app purchases are designed to feel transparently part of a game but you can restrict them using the device settings. 80% of the top 100 highest grossing apps are free to install! Even apparently ‘free’ apps cost something: consider the value of your personal information, your email address, your browsing behaviour to potential marketing firms (the Flappy Bird game made $50k a day purely from advertising).
3. Don’t store passwords in browser
Although it’s an easy way to avoid losing your passwords, if you’re sharing your computer, anyone who uses it will benefit from those unlocked doors.
4. Become app snobs
Become discriminating users of software. Consider the quality and values of apps and games and pick the best.
The Guardian’s Apps for children in 2014 is a great starting place to find some really good ones.
5. Use in moderation
Too much screen time can compromise other activities. Think about agreeing how much time and when children can spend on those devices.
6. Give children their own account
It’s illegal for children under 13 to have unsupervised digital accounts but you can support them by establishing a unique iTunes/ Google Play account that you can control.
7. Model behaviour
Young children watch how the grown-ups behave and mimic them. Can you be a helpful role model with technology?
8. Talk about what’s private
As we warn children about strangers in real life, alert them to the fact that nothing is secret if it goes online and that there’s some information we should keep to ourselves.
The Get Safe Online is a good general resource for all aspects of online safety for all ages. Go to BBC Webwise to see parents and children discuss issues around family safety online and ThinkuKnow from the UK Police’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) unit offers lots of family-friendly advice.
9. Play in public
Try to keep screens in shared family spaces so that you can support your child and help them if they get into trouble.
10. Be involved
Children love it when families do stuff together. Find opportunities to surf, watch and play with your children – you’ll be better informed and they’ll see you’re positively interested in them.
The Ask about Games site advertises itself as “Where families make sense of video games” and the Common Sense Media site offers very balanced reviews of games, music, films and apps in terms of family-friendliness and educational value.
When I’m thinking about the digital world, the analogy of the sea is a useful one. It can be a dangerous place but if we learn to swim safely in it, it can be healthy, social, full of positive discoveries and lots of fun. Let’s enjoy it with our children!
Some more useful websites:
Children’s Media Foundation – Parent’s Portal (http://www.thechildrensmediafoundation.org/parent-portal)
Frequently Asked Questions about children’s use of media
Kids and Media (http://kidsandmedia.co.uk)
“How to guide and guard your child in a digital world”
The Parent Zone (http://www.theparentzone.co.uk/parent/information/digital_parenting)
A large selection of resources to help parents understand and support their children’s media use.