The foreword to this book was written by Megan Meier’s mum, the teenager who killed herself after cyber-bullying on MySpace.
The author (a risk manager), who has set up the Cyber Safety Academy, watched her own daughter harassed online for months without knowing what to do. Despite the experiences of both of these parents, she is keen to emphasise that this book seeks to offer a balance of pros/cons for a 24/7 digitally connected world.
Parenting in today’s digital world isn’t easy, but if you’re proactive, get involved, and attempt to understand your child’s online life, you’re much closer to avoiding a one-click nightmare. (p2)
Parenting has always been hard, and bad people have always preyed on the innocent, but the power/reach is greater than ever before. The biggest questions parents tend to ask about is bullying, stranger-danger and porn, and this author is keen for parents to take responsibility for what their children are doing online (whether they are the parent of a victim or a perpetrator), realising that it is a powerful space.
The major risks are defined (in a world where technology is portable and easy to access):
- Persistent & instantly harmful
- Content can be edited & altered
- Distributed with lightning speed & breadth
- There is a lack of accountability
- It’s insidious & dangerous.
The book emphasises that technology is not separated from rest of their lives for kids – there is a constant flow of information between online/offline – there is total connectivity. The author calls for open, honest and ongoing conversations, letting children know that the only reason you’re keeping an eye on them is to help them if they run into difficulties – don’t try and “spy” on them or you’ll lose trust & they won’t approach you when they do get into difficulties.
Discussing the ages that technologies would be allowed, the author suggests that under 7 is not old enough for the responsibility of a mobile, age 8-10 is OK for a non-internet enabled phone, 11-13 is OK for a parental control enabled phone [is this just possible in the US?], and 14-17 a smartphone with limits upon online purchases, and occasional parental checks. Filtering/blocking software is of little use, as you’ll see as soon as you Google the topic (full of hacks).
Many parents feel that they don’t have the right to monitor their child’s private conversations, photos, or videos, but you do. What’s important to remember is that you are most likely paying your child’s monthly cell phone bill and providing access to the internet. You are the parent, which makes you the authority in the household.(p32)
A particular focus upon Facebook as the biggest social network – what it allows, but also the dangers associated (including addiction). Facebook allows children on at 13, but it’s up to the parent to decide whether your children are old enough. Parents grew up in an era where your every move was NOT documented, whereas children have to realise how permanent their experiments can be. Expect that your rules will be broken, so be clear on the consequences – teens require boundaries, guidance and consistency from parents (be clear at what age things are allowed for multi-child families).
The author is wary about location based software, emphasises the public nature of Twitter, and highlights YouTube’s responsive policy for removing videos (therefore giving time for copies to be made). The importance of strong passwords, and not giving to your BFF today, who tomorrow may fall out with you and post all your secrets. If children think that parents think that they are just wasting their time online, they will think you “just don’t understand” and may disregard your rules, so learn to live well in the digital world. The more sociable children are likely to be found on Facebook, the less likely on games/videos. The book then emphasises material on cyberbullying, provides extra resources, and re-emphasises that the need is to TALK to your children.
Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @ Manchester Metropolitan University. Interested in digital literacy and digital culture in the third sector (especially faith). Author of ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’, regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.