The obsession with my iphone started at an early age and was duly rewarded with her own Fisher Price ‘mobile’ for her first birthday. She now has several toy phones and a ‘laptop’ (keyboard alphabet game). Still, the sheer joy of getting her grubby little hands on the real McCoy is undeniable. Thankfully a passcode prevents her doing too much damage if I take my eye off the ball.
So where’s all this going to lead? Reports that children are unable to communicate effectively or feel comfortable in social situations because they are spending too much time online and not enough in the ‘real’ world fills me with horror. Then there’s the issue of child safety, grooming and bullying. And one poor mother recently had to fork out £1,700 to pay for her five year old’s spending spree on her Ipad.
Of course, there are steps parents can take to alleviate these risks, such as limiting time spent on technology, supervising activity and using filtering and monitoring software. And the recent pledge by internet service providers, social media companies and search engines to clamp down on child pornography has to be a good move; although I’m not sure how far their paltry £1 million will go towards this effort, and whether ‘user alerts’ threatening legal intervention will simply drive the distribution of content underground. Anyway, I digress.
As my little one grows up, I would hope to be able to encourage her to socialise with her friends in person as much as online, and ‘screen’ time will certainly be limited. But as someone who checks her email, Facebook and Twitter accounts at least twice a day and goes into a state of panic if the WiFi goes down, leading by example will be tough! In my defence, this reliance on online communications is largely work-related, and I don’t feel the need to provide daily status updates. This perceived need to have a constant online presence in order to maintain credibility with one’s peers is something I particularly fear for my daughter.
On the other hand, I fully advocate the benefits of the internet and social media for learning, entertainment, sharing ideas and keeping in touch with family and friends who are geographically out of reach. Indeed, the skills and knowledge to utilise these technologies effectively should be supported – poor IT skills are surely a disadvantage in the modern world. So, rather than be too heavy-handed about surfing the web for fear of any potential harm, I hope in future we can discuss what she’s using the internet for and how to enter the digital world safely; just as we will discuss the dangers of coming home late and the dreaded ‘birds and the bees’, at the right time.
Putting Olly Murs and my headache aside… children are lucky to have so many resources available to them through the internet, but just as we had a fear of ‘stranger danger’ drilled into us, today’s kids need to be taught a healthy disrespect of enticing online introductions. They also need to understand the importance of conducting themselves properly to protect their own reputation, and know the potential for hurt by carelessly criticising others. Most importantly, they should know when its time to log off and not fear any repercussions. Only time will tell how successful I am in promoting this attitude.