The internet has undoubtedly become an essential part of our daily lives, consumes leisure time, and largely defines how we communicate and find information. It opens up a world of new experiences, with both adults and children benefitting from the fun and games, and educational activities.
Much of children’s internet education happens in the home, so what can parents do to ensure they use the technology safely, follow reasonable rules and develop healthy online habits? Here’s a roundup of expert opinion and some helpful tips from three experienced teachers at the Australian International School , Avondale Grammar School and Integrated International School.
Dr Vanessa von Auer, Principal at Integrated International School , answered our questions about the nuts and bolts of technology use and suggested some healthy behaviours to instil in children.
What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of technology use?
Appropriate educational sources of screen time, such as TV and computers, can foster creativity, stimulate problem-solving strategies and help children become tech-savvy, all of which are necessary in a child’s social development.
However, watching TV, surfing the net and playing computer games are sedentary activities that can be isolating. Some of the disadvantages of excessive screen time include an inactive lifestyle potentially leading to obesity, limited physical or outdoor interaction with others, weak vision, poor posture and irregular sleep.
How much “screen time” per day is appropriate?
Guidelines for daily screen time vary from source to source, but in my professional opinion, the following limits are healthy:
|Age Group||Time Limit|
|2-4||20 to 30 minutes|
|5-7||30 minutes to 1 hour|
|8-12||1 to 2 hours, including school and homework tasks, not purely for entertainment|
|13-18||Over 2 hours, as students rely heavily on educational technology and the internet for their projects, homework and assignments|
Research suggests that primary-school-age children who have more than two hours’ screen time (apart from schoolwork or homework) daily are at risk of developing emotional, social and attention problems.
What parental controls and guidance do you suggest?
Have the computer and TV in a central location that is accessible to all family members. This ensures that children understand when they are allowed to use them, and which content or sources are acceptable and which are not. Consider downloading parental control monitoring software, which can help block harmful or inappropriate content. I also recommend implementing a daily screen time limit appropriate to each of your children’s age group.
Can using computers late into the night affect the quality of sleep and lead to sleep deprivation?
Research has suggested that the stimulation computer usage creates in the brain may make it more difficult for children to get to sleep. Other studies have indicated that it is not the computer or TV content itself but their bright light that may decrease levels of melatonin, our sleep-regulating hormone. The general rule of thumb is that children should not have access to TV or computers one to two hours before bedtime.
What ergonomic guidelines are suggested?
To prevent musculoskeletal disorders, use ergonomically designed chairs, adjustable computer tables and appropriate-sized keyboards. It is also important that children take regular movement and vision breaks from their screens. Stretching neck muscles can help prevent tension in the upper back.
- Screen time should not dominate a child’s leisure time
- Keep TVs and computers out of children’s bedrooms
- Limit daily screen time, balancing it with outdoor and group activities
- Educate your child about the harmfulness of excessive screen time, explaining safety concerns and the importance of having real-life experiences rather than living in a virtual reality
Sensible Social Media Users
The internet offers a mind-boggling range of social networking options, from Facebook, with its one billion users, to Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and innumerable chat rooms. The Australian International School’s Director of Informationand Communication Technology, Andrew Mowatt, gave us an overview of the social media minefield.
What are the benefits for a child using social media?
Engagement. Students who may be less socially confident in face-to-face settings can have a voice and a presence online. What’s more, they gain from anywhere and anytime learning. The online world opens up collaborative learning options and the opportunity to connect content and facts to a purpose, sometimes through a global audience, which is a huge motivator. It offers a real opportunity for a child to make a difference or to contribute to causes that make a difference in the world. Children can foster and bring to life early passions and hobbies which, in turn, can lead to significant life opportunities.
What are the disadvantages?
Social media can distract children from tasks and workflows that they need to complete. There are social and digital citizenship and digital footprint issues, too. Importantly, what happens online really stays online, and in most cases this is permanent. There is a risk of social contact with questionable and unverified connections, which in rare cases leads to actual danger for the student.
- Don’t prohibit the use of technology as punishment; consider the consequences. Children may fear losing access to the technology and therefore not report any concerns they have
- Get to know the technology your child is using, including sites such as Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Skype and Minecraft
Why should we be concerned about our online reputation?
Content, once posted, has a high level of permanence and redundancy. While content might be deleted from one source, it will still be present in other places. For example, if I share content on Tumblr, even if the account has been closed and content deleted from the original account source, it lives on in the accounts of those who have re-posted it. Adults should be aware that there are companies that mine the internet for background information about job applicants, and photos of wild weekends in Phuket won’t particularly help an application.
How can parents prepare children for dealing with inappropriate material, and what can they do when alerted to offensive messages such as “sexting”?
Proactive measures include:
- Insisting on a strong digital citizenship programme at your child’s school (at AIS this programme runs from Preparatory to Year 12 as part of the curriculum).
- Discussing issues with your child often, and always in a calm setting. It is never too early to start discussing the importance of being a good digital citizen, but it’s much harder to resolve an issue if you don’t have any guidelines in place.
- Creating a family agreement about what is acceptable online use. This should be done at a quiet time, and not in relation to a specific problem.
- Agreeing on a scenario plan of action if “the worst” happens, including what you will do and what help you will need from a support network. Consider discussing this with your child.
Reactive measures include:
- Following your plan of action and activating the support network.
- Following through with the planned actions or consequences as discussed with your child.
What are safe behaviours for using social media?
1. Think before you post information.
2. Be aware of the privacy choices across different platforms. Choose not to use a social media platform if the privacy settings are not adequate.
3. Teach your children ways to deal with disturbing material and encourage them to talk to you or another trusted adult.
4. Behave online as you would face to face.
5. Only add friends or accept followers that you have met in person.
Say No to Cyberbullying
Craig Kemp is Head of ICT and Learning Innovation at Avondale Grammar School and an enthusiastic advocate for the learning opportunities that the internet opens up for children. He is a firm believer in age-appropriate education which teaches kids to be safe online, and that parents should be good role models.
“Kids often know more than their parents. They are effectively ‘digital natives’ and the gap is only going to get bigger as technology changes so rapidly,” he says. He believes that kids are being educated for many jobs that don’t even exist yet, so it’s essential that they learn how to solve problems and how to use the internet safely and effectively. “Rather than saying no to everything or coming down on them, we need to educate kids because they are going to use the internet – both with and without us.”
What is cyberbullying?
This happens when kids send messages or photos by mobile phone or internet that are mean, teasing or contain gossip. If it’s happening, parents may notice a change in their child’s behaviour. The child may be nervous and secretive about what they are doing. They may disconnect with friends or change friendship groups.
The most prevalent age group is teenage girls, but all kids are vulnerable. Some kids think being online is like a mask, that they can do or say anything. But in reality, online behaviour should be the same behaviour as in person. Singapore schools seem to have less of a problem with cyberbullying than in other countries, but kids need to know how to deal with it.
Cyberbullying is like old-fashioned schoolyard bullying, and the response should be the same. Ignore the bully, and tell a trusted adult. We tell children not to hide it, and definitely not to do it to others. It can be helpful to keep some evidence as proof.
How high are the risks of cyberbullying and online predators?
The reality is that cyberbullying occurs and there are predators online, but the risk in Singapore is very low. We need to educate children about the dangers, but educate them positively. The internet opens up incredible opportunities, but learning how to be a good online citizen is important.
The same rules apply online as they would in person. When you walk down the street, you don’t just talk to anyone. If you get an email from someone you don’t know, why would you read it? As children, we ourselves learnt about stranger danger on the streets; it is the same today, but it happens online.
Tell us about our digital footprint. What does this term mean?
Everything we post online is our digital footprint, or tattoo; it could be there forever and seen by lots of people. For this reason, we teach children that their digital footprint should be positive. I say, “You should be able to share anything you put online face to face with your granny.” If you wouldn’t say something straight to someone’s face, then it doesn’t belong online. Just as in physical friendships, kids must show respect to others online.
Kids, here are ten cybersmart steps to protect your privacy
When you share things online you may be sharing with other people you do not know or trust. Once a message, photo or video has been shared, you won’t be able to control where it goes.
1. Limit your friend list to people you do know – don’t “friend” random people.
2. Sharing passwords is not a good idea – unless it’s with a trusted adult like your mum or dad.
3. Double-check your privacy settings – make sure that the information you share is only seen by the people you want to see it.
4. Protect your digital reputation – think before you post, chat, upload or download.
5. Don’t use a web cam with strangers.
6. Check which location services are enabled on your mobile phone and switch off all of the unnecessary ones.
7. Be very careful about checking in from your mobile phone – this lets people know where you are, what you’re doing and where you have or haven’t been.
8. Check that you’re not also displaying your location details to those nearby who you might not know.
9. If you feel unsafe while you’re at a particular location, contact the police, and if you have problems while using a service, report it to the service provider.
10. Apply the same rules to the stuff you post about your friends – make sure you check with them before you tag them in photos or check them in to a location.
Copyright Commonwealth of Australia. Reproduced with permission of the Australian Communications and Media Authority Cybersmart programme. cybersmart.gov.au
Resources that are thoroughly recommended by education professionals
Cybersmart | cybersmart.gov.au
Hector’s World | cybersmart.gov.au/Young%20Kids/Visit-Hectors-World.aspx
Budd:e Primary | budd-e.staysmartonline.gov.au/primary/main.php
The Easy Guide to Socialising Online | dbcde.gov.au/easyguide
Family Online Safety Institute | fosi.org
Thinkuknow | thinkuknow.co.uk
Facebook for Parents | facebookforparents.org
Common Sense Media | commonsensemedia.org
Net Addiction | netaddiction.com
Kidsmart UK | kidsmart.org.uk