Sunday, 1 February 2015

Parental education essential for children's safety

As children are heading to school to start the 2015 school year, there is added pressure on families to provide children with the tablets, laptops and various other digital equipment. Our world is changing and it is changing fast. Digital literacy is becoming an expectation and as children are being given this digital education through their schools (and sometimes through their peers), often the caregivers are left behind.

Many schools now require a tablet as a part of their standard stationary list as children are learning to engage with a wide variety of digital tools to prepare them for a life of ever changing digital technology. Allowing all children the opportunity to explore these devices - to learn their 'intuitive logic' - provides them with the skills and confidence to explore not only the devices they have but to explore new forms of digital technology as they emerge. I would suggest that if children do not have this access, they may be at a significant disadvantage in the future. Finding ways to improve access to these kinds of technologies and the education to effectively utilise the devices is an important step in reducing the digital divide. While the cost of this technology is still prohibitive for some families, I feel there is an greater threat for families - and that is the lack of information caregivers have to monitor and regulate the information their children access and divulge.

Social media has become a ubiquitous part of the lives of young people. It is in this forum they will share their dreams, fears, anxieties, frustrations and photos. They may support their friends through facebook 'likes' and tweet shares and bully (or be bullied by) their enemies through venomous posts and uploading unwanted pictures. They may 'meet' strangers who have an unhealthy interest in young people and meet scammers looking for ways to make money. They may use the internet to find solutions to homework, to learn about their favorite animal or how to become an astronaut, or they may stumble across online gambling, pornography or a grooming sexual predator who is asking for photo uploads, or worse still, to meet in person. This new technology opens up the world to our children, for good and for bad, and the consequences are profound.

Our caregivers need the skills and the confidence to navigate these digital tools to ensure their children are safe. They need to know about the kinds of software available to block unsavory sites and they need to know how to check the history of internet searches. Providing families with the tools to keep their children internet safe while they learn and engage with such an exciting technology is the key to developing a healthy, digitally literate community. Computers in Homes is one step in this journey for families. We work alongside 100 Waikato families, providing them with the skills, the experience and the confidence to use digital technology. We offer stepping up classes to continue this education. But as more and more children now required to engage with digital technology and funds to provide training to families is limited, we fear many more families will not have the information and the skills they need to keep their children safe. It is time we looked more broadly for solutions for these families to ensure every family has what they need to minimise the risks and maximise the outstanding potential that this digital world can offer.

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