There’s so much that’s positive about technology… The trick is to give our kids the right tools and keep the conversation going. (Rebecca Levey, Mashable)
You don’t need to know everything about how the internet works in order to use it, but increasing your understanding of the most popular tools will help your own confidence, both in using the technology and in allowing your child to access the right tools.
On Facebook you can send “Friend” requests to other Facebook members, and also receive “Friend” requests, which you can accept, decline, or ignore. You can share updates (including text, photo, and video) on your “Wall”, which is on your “Profile”. Private messages can be shared, instant messaging partaken of, and photos and check-ins tagged, and users can engage with the pages of celebrities and businesses.
Despite the fact that we hear that children are leaving Facebook, it’s still the ‘workhorse’ of internet tools, with over a billion active users globally each month. It’s used across the age groups, largely to connect with friends who are already known offline. Facebook’s Terms of Service limit the site to those over thirteen, although large numbers under that age are signed up, with many parents seeing eleven as a suitable age.
For those who do choose to allow their children to join before thirteen (and it’s worth thinking about what message this sends about abiding by rules and regulations), set the privacy settings high, know your child’s password, and talk to them about who and what they are engaging with.
Twitter was initially based on text messages, so “Tweets” are limited to 140 characters, displayed, and delivered to the author’s “followers”. There are around 250 million active monthly users, with at least 25% of teens on there. A “retweet” (RT) occurs when another user reposts your message, thus circulating it to their followers – a true compliment. Twitter is great for making and maintaining contacts with others with similar interests, with hashtags, e.g. #digitalparenting, used within tweets, functioning as active links.
Check https://support.twitter.com for Twitter support pages.
YouTube is a site on which users can upload and share videos, and, for many, the second largest search engine after Google, particularly when seeking ‘how-to’. The site has around 1 billion active monthly users, particularly those aged 18-34, and around 72 hours of video are uploaded every minute, and 6 billion hours of videos watched every month. YouTube cannot guarantee that the site is free of inappropriate content, even in safety mode, so sit with younger users.
There’s a good range of information on: http://www.youtube.com/yt/policyandsafety/safety.html
There are 150 million monthly Instagram users, half of them using it daily, and many of them teenagers. It’s an online photo-sharing service that encourages its users to take pictures, apply digital filters to photos (change how they look), and share them on other social networking services. The software says that users should be over thirteen, although there are no checks in place. See the Connectsafely.org guide for parents: http://www.connectsafely.org/wp-content/uploads/instagram_guide.pdf *see 2018 version.
A blog is a public online journal that’s updated regularly with entries that appear in reverse chronological order. Blogs can be about any subject, usually something the author is passionate about, and typically contain a mix of text, images, videos, and links to other sites, while encouraging comments from other users. Around 11% of children were writing blogs in 2010. Blogger, WordPress, and Tumblr are some of the many (free) blogging platforms available for use, with Tumblr particularly popular for younger bloggers.
Snapchat is a photo-messaging application for mobile phones, particularly popular with those aged 13-24. The app is very simple to use for sharing pictures and video clips with friends and family. Images can be shared for 2-15 seconds and then the content “disappears” – something that appeals to children who find their every move documented. Every day more than 50 millions Snapchat messages are shared worldwide.
The fact that the image “disappears” gives the illusion of control, but it’s still possible for the recipient to capture a screenshot of the image (although if the receiver’s phone device is used for this, you’ll be sent an alert), and the information will have passed through computer servers, where copies may continue to exist. See this guide: http://www.connectsafely.org/wp-content/uploads/snapchat_guide.pdf
Some other services you might want to know about include the increasingly popular WhatsApp, rather like text, but including images, video and audio, which uses data rather than text quotas. Foursquare allows users to ‘check in’ to locations, using the GPS sensors on their phone: it’s probably best to ensure that a regular routine can’t be established from your check-ins. LinkedIn is the place where professionals hang out, and particularly useful if you’re seeking a job in the corporate world. Pinterest, which gained popularity last year, allows users to ‘pin’ images from across the internet to online pinboards – if you have any friends planning a wedding, you will probably have seen this. Skype allows instant messaging, file transfer, and video conferencing. Calls to other users of the service are free, while calls to other landlines and mobile phones can be made for a fee. There’s an associated service called Skypito suitable for younger users. When using Google search you can turn “safe search” on at http://www.google.co.uk/preferences, ticking the box labelled “Filter explicit results”, although it’s not foolproof.
Read more like this in my book Raising Children in a Digital Age.
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.