I have recently returned from a trip to Africa. In the weeks leading up to my trip I was often asked, “Why would you go to Africa to talk on technology?”

Because the world is truly a global village! I have seen it with my own eyes.

 

Other than perhaps extremely remote areas, almost every child (old enough to own a phone) in Africa has a Smart phone. Mobile phone airtime ‘top up’ scratchies can be bought for as little as $1, on almost any street corner.

 

Children are completely technology literate, even in parts of the world where their parents are completely illiterate (in the traditional sense).

 

So what does this have to do with my child?

 

Children are now more connected than ever before, with anyone, anywhere around the world. So apps for social media sites, such as Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Kik, Facebook and Ask.fm are easily available to your child, and every other child – in Sydney, New York, Harare, Johannesburg or Jakarta.

 

My message anywhere around the world?

We need to assist our children to live in the world they are in. By banning technology in our homes we will not give them the skills to grow into Ethical Digital Citizens.

 

Our message to children should not be, “Don’t use technology”. Because they will anyway.

Our message should be, “Use technology thoughtfully, with knowledge and awareness.”

 

And that can only be done with a parent guiding and talking, often a one off conversation does not help grow digital literacy.

 

My number one piece of advice?

Get technology out of bedrooms and into public areas at home. That goes for ipods, tablets and phones too.

 

Why?

Due to the heartbreaking suicide of 12 year old Rebecca, Ask.fm* and Kik have been in the news again this week. Ask.fm (as an example) is a social networking site little known to parents, but has 65 million users, with half of them being under 18. Users of this website generally post anonymous questions. Ask.fm users have reportedly encouraged nine vulnerable teenagers to commit suicide.

 

I am not implying that every child is a suicide risk, or that every parent needs to hang over their child’s shoulder all afternoon.

 

However, every child will have access to some form of bullying behaviour, other online content and myriad discussions, yet no one knows our children like we do. We can monitor body language, conversations and content, far better in the lounge room than when hidden behind a closed door.

 

Yes, there may be times when a specific homework project needs to be done, away from the family mayhem. But this should be done, in an area that can still be monitored. i.e. Not in a study room in the top corner of the house.

 

What about my child’s privacy?

I get asked this question often. My answer is this,

“To a child, ‘privacy’ means ‘privacy from mum and dad’. No one else. The internet is not private! So why would parents allow everyone else to monitor/follow/keep up with their child, but not them?”

 

There are certainly times that we should allow for independence and privacy, as teens grow e.g. Knocking before entering a teen’s bedroom or bathroom. Allowing your daughter and her friend (who is over) to talk on their own in her room. Encouraging your child to go for a bicycle ride to the shops.

 

I also strongly recommend that parents know all passwords to devices and social media sites.

 

Parents need to ask around and find out about new popular apps, and then check-in on these conversations from time to time. Not through spying or secrecy, but as a form of open protection. Use the time to chat about conversations people are having online about others, behaviours and topics. Lots of life lessons can happen through these discussions.

 

Sleep hygiene is another reason.

Children and teens need between 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night. One of the biggest reasons for poor school and sporting performance is due to sleep deprivation.

 

Too many teens are woken multiple times at night, with the ‘beep beep beep’ of Facebook or email alerts.

 

“But I need my alarm on my phone!”, is not a strong enough reason for teens to keep devices in their bedrooms. (Yes there is the capability of locking out all other apps at night – if a parent can remember to do this every night). I recommend purchasing a small alarm clock from the local $2 shop and placing all devices on charge, in a public space at night.

 

Other thoughts

Additionally, I would like to stress that nothing is fail safe, because nothing is ever private online. Vigilance and education are the key aspects to keeping children safe.

 

As a mother of three children (one in High School), I know that what I suggest is not always easy. I need to constantly juggle, compromise and be creative in my parenting and I certainly do not get it perfectly right. But I will keep doing what needs to be done, because kids are kids and and they make ‘kid-like’ choices. Not because children are mean or devious or malicious, they are simply a work in progress.

 

It is my job to help my children along, in the process of learning and growing into ethical digital citizens. This does not happen by throwing them into the deep end of cyber space and yelling, ‘Swim!’, as I walk out the door.

 

*What is Ask.fm? – Ask.fm is a social networking platform where users create profiles with photos and information about themselves. Users ask each other questions but you don’t have to be a member to ask a question or browse profiles. Users can block their identity and ask questions anonymously. Users can limit who they accept questions from or can leave themselves open to questions from anyone, including anonymous users. Ask.FM’s Terms of Use state that users must be 13 years or older. It advises people not to share personal information and to block and report users who break the Terms of Service. It advises that ‘if the person keeps bothering you, report abuse to us by pressing the Report button and to law enforcement’.

 

Collett Smart – psychologist at FamilySmart www.familysmart.com.au

Twitter @collettsmart