Written by Sev Marcel
The Job of Keeping Children Safe in the Digital World
Guest Blog: WildBrain #digitalliteracy
We kick off a month of activity around digital skills and knowledge, with a blog by WildBrain colleague and parent, Sev Marcel
With children accessing the internet at an earlier age, often before starting school, it has become evident that digital literacy and e-safety needs to be as important as learning how to cross a road, if we want to keep our children safe. Many parents feel the onus lays with government, institutions creating online environments, or the education system. For me, the truth is: to protect our children, teaching safety has to start at home.
It was Sunday afternoon and as the usual domestic tasks were being ticked off one by one before the working week began. My four-year-old daughter was surfing on the YouTube Kids app, and my ten-year-old son did research on Google for his homework. As I observed them both completely entranced in an alternative universe, it dawned on me that, actually, it wasn’t. We seamlessly inhabit physical and digital environments today, and I couldn’t help wondering whether I had equipped my children well enough to understand digital literacy, as I had taught them to be safe in the physical world.
As the world has become more technologically advanced, and the sophistication of how we live online has grown, so too, have the demands on parents to prepare for this. Prior to the internet age, bringing up children was focused on their physical, emotional and social well-being, as well as developing an understanding of the physical world. A child’s view of the world is gradually created over time. As we grow into our adult selves, so does our bank of knowledge. We learn how to navigate and survive in the world. We learn simple lessons such as crossing a road, not to go off with strangers, and keeping your pin code a secret.
These life-lessons are still relevant today. The trouble is, as grown-ups, we need to realize that the lessons taught in the physical world need to also be applied in the digital. Whilst the way they are taught and applied differently, the outcome of keeping safe is consistent. In early 2017, a report* issued by the “Growing Up Digital” taskforce, claimed that children are not being taught or supported for life online as they are prepared for life offline. This report indicates that we need to address the current status quo. Online etiquette should be part of education for children, that starts early in homes and continues throughout schooling and be supported more thoroughly by government.
In the physical world, we accompany our children everywhere they go, until an age where we feel they can protect themselves. Think of a playground. It’s a wonderful place, made for children so that they are able to have fun, push their boundaries and maybe even take a few risks. All under the watchful eye of a grown-up, at the ready to rescue if required. Well, the online world isn’t a place that was built with children in mind – so why do we let them loose on it so freely? Perhaps we don’t know about the dangers enough ourselves? Perhaps we haven’t realized that the internet, has grown up to have its own culture, etiquette and requirements, which we need to learn?
As the first teacher your child has for digital literacy, it is important to feel empowered yourself. Here are my five steps to get you started.
1. Start Communicating and take it one step at a time
You may not know everything there is to know about forums, snap lenses, hacking and safety modes, but start having a conversation early, about the importance of staying safe. When you find challenging situations that occur online, problem solve together. Learning together, how and why something works, will make you both feel empowered. Some digital environments can be complex. Platforms and apps require children to make judgements and some pretty mature decisions, so it’s important to run through things together one step at a time.
2. Don’t just rely on the controls, get some lessons to know how
Safety settings are great and can offer a barrier to certain content you want to protect your child from. Learning what they are, and how they work is key. It’s important to note however, that safety settings aren’t foolproof, and to stay safe still requires making good choices when online. This is like the lesson of crossing the road…yes, the traffic light tells a pedestrian it is safe to cross, but knowing to look left and right are fundamental.
3. Just like people lie in the physical world, they also do in the digital world
Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s real or true. It’s difficult to discern what you can and can’t trust as a child, so it is particularly important for us grown-ups to show leadership in this area. A good idea is to have a list of ‘official’ or ‘trusted’ sites you rely on for real information. When in doubt, check the source, check the ‘About Us’ page, are the links to reputable sites. A really thorough approach, is to research whether the information is the same on three other sites.
4. Protect your identity, your finances and address bullying behavior
This can range from learning to simply logout of all your accounts when using a public computer to keeping your passwords safe and complex. We can all do more to make sensible decisions when engaging with people on social media. How we react to other people’s negative and bullying comments, is so easily picked up on by our kids. Always look after your own safety when meeting up in person with friends made online.
5. Once you write it, you can never take it back
Just as in the real world, you can’t take back the things you say. The same applies to the digital world. What is written today, stays forever, so it’s really important to behave carefully and not to regret your actions. Your ‘digital footprint’ is all the information about you online, and is something that builds up like your life’s resume. If you don’t want, literally, the whole world to possibly know what you’ve written, just step away from the keyboard.
To keep your children, and ourselves safe online, we need to start with basic life-lessons that keep us safe overall. The physical and digital worlds aren’t mutually exclusive.