Gateway Gazette

FSD: The Holiday Domino

By James Aitchison, Director of Learning Technologies for Foothills School Division

Just ask…

Consumer Electronics were high on the holiday wish list for the average Canadian school aged child. With the cost of devices decreasing every year the opportunity to place wireless devices in the hands of children has never been better. According to Media Smarts a large number of these young consumers are involved in Social Media starting at an early age and many of these kids are using sites unsupervised.

Media-Smarts infographicA common question I get from parents within my social circles is “how do we keep up with it?” New online services show up every day and the risks associated with these services is real.

My answer is usually related to supervision. I have four kids in my personal life – 11, 13, 26 and 28. We’re a blended family, so I’ve been through this once with the older two. What I found is that the location of the technology in the home is relevant. For my first set of kids the family computer was in an open space where the screen was visible. Mobile devices were put away at the supper table. The phones the kids had were password protected but it was a known password. That meant I had access to view the content on my child’s device when I asked for it. As I go through this a second time, the rules are mostly the same.

As parents, my significant other and I talk a lot about online identity, the digital footprint and being safe. That doesn’t mean it’s been perfect. Kids are curious. The youngest created accounts without supervision or advice and the “friends” list had to be modified and their personal profiles reviewed. We also checked content. We had a lengthy discussion about Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram and other popular applications. We frequently check the apps on our children’s phones and discuss what their phones are being used for. We also “take a look” at what’s on their phone and spend time discussing cyber-bullying.

As parents it’s important to be familiar with what kids are using and then to ask them why. Sometimes kids can make bad decisions on their way to the right place. Two powerful words… “show me”.

As we requested the opportunity to look at “their” devices, our kids challenged us on that process. They suggested trust issues. The answer is simple – it’s not about trust… it’s about good parenting. My kids have lost the privilege of their own devices for more than a week at a time. It’s an effective strategy as I know the kids feel like I’ve removed a limb. They survived, and despite the groans and comments related to injustice, so did I.

As a family we talk about digital footprints frequently. We want our kids to be safe and wise in a connected world. We also want them to have access to technologies because we know that wired access can improve learning and provide an advantage.

If you’re sitting on the fence about a digital device for your child and the implications of that device on their safety, their learning or their balanced life style, the links I’ve shared in this article are a good place to start. Our society has shifted and, in my opinion, the greatest shift has been in the critical need to be a lifelong learner. As parents I believe we invest in our kids when we remain informed about changing technology. When technology is placed in your children’s hands either at school or by you, are you ready to “just ask”?

Additional Resource

Parents’ Guide for Safe YouTube and Internet Streaming for Kids

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