I have always considered myself to be fairly well informed about the general workings of the internet. I understand the language; I work daily with the technology; I’m a practised social media participant.
So it was a shock to find my confidence a little shaken when I first entered the field of cybersafety and began my work with the Cybersmart team. I clearly remember that my first month in the job had me looking at my digital world in a whole new light.
For all my experience, I had never really taken the time to proactively consider the implications of what I post, how I interact and the behaviours that my children adopt based on my use of the internet. I realised that the internet had become such a regular feature in my day to day life that I had become complacent about the preservation of my own digital reputation.
Many parents may be surprised to learn that your children will most likely equal, if not exceed, your skill in using the web effectively. The ease with which my five year old can operate my iPhone never ceases to amaze me. So then, follows the obvious question: how do we teach our kids about being responsible digital citizens, when we may not know ourselves?
I can think of three words to answer this question…education, education, education.
And let me be clear on this point, education on this topic must happen in at least three ways:
• Education through the school community.
• Education from parent to child.
• Perhaps most importantly, education from child to parent.
So I hear you ask—where should my digital education begin?
I started by talking with my kids. I talked to them about the games that they play online, what they learn about online safety at school and about all the reasons why a five year old is too young to have his own email address! They showed me Poptropica, Moshi Monsters and about a hundred other games that are the flavour of the month. I walked away from the discussion enlightened, but my lesson continued.
I realised that while I understood the digital environment that I worked in, their digital landscape was completely different. So began my research to understand their world. I talked to our class teachers about what they do online at school, I researched the inner workings of the games that they were playing and I spoke with my expert colleagues about the challenges facing today’s children in an increasingly online environment.
I uncovered an abundance of free resources to help me along my path to digital discovery. Some of the best parent resources I found were developed by the very team that I work with. Others have been developed by organisations such as the Department for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) and The Alannah and Madeline Foundation. Some of my discoveries were less formal, talking to friends who work in the IT world and friends who also have kids operating online.
As you may have gathered, I learned that education and open lines of communication are the keys to ensuring that both you and your kids enjoy positive online experiences.
And remember, no one expects you to know everything about the online world, but you are there to help your children where you can.