By Rachel Hynes.
The McAfee Tweens, Teens and Technology Report, launched this week, reveals the online behaviour of 8- to 12-year-olds in Australia.
One finding that really stood out for me was this:
An 8-year-old is adopting technology as fast as a 16-year-old.
I would consider myself fairly tech savvy, but my teenager leaves me for dead. So would 8-year-olds, apparently.
This probably comes as no surprise to parents of tweens. It’s parents who are giving their children permission to join social networking sites in the first place.
67% of tweens use a social media website.
25% admit to having Facebook (even though the Facebook guideline is over 13s)
95% of tweens on Facebook said their parents had given them permission.
As McAfee’s Melanie Duca asked us at the launch: “Would those same parents give their children access to that many strangers in the real world?”
Managing your child’s time online is getting harder
It is getting more and more difficult to monitor our children’s use of screens and the Internet. On average, tweens are spending 1.5 hours online each day, using three to four devices. The old guideline of having “the family PC” in a “family area” such as the lounge room so you can keep an eye on your child seems almost quaint. Tweens are on smartphones, tablets, laptops, Xbox and Playstation, iPods (with Internet connectivity) … and on it will go as new devices and ways to connect become available.
There can be some tut-tutting and finger-wagging over young kids being on technology, especially unsupervised. And sure, it is entirely possible to keep your kids away from screens and the Internet (at home) if that is what you choose. But most parents are happy for their kids to benefit from our world of technology and connectedness – we just struggle with managing it.
The Life Education bCyberwise program visits primary schools and teaches children a lot of great stuff about online safety. But it is still the parents’ responsibility to know what their kids are doing online and to limit the time they spend online (here’s a tip for parents still to go through this: no child will self-monitor). The older your child gets, the less control you will have.
A good relationship with your child more important than ever
Parenting ‘expert’ Dr Justin Coulson said something very profound and helpful at the launch of the Tweens, Teens and Technology Report. What he said made me realise that technology – its ubiquity and accessibility, and our lack of control over it in our children’s lives – will actually change parenting, and probably for the better.
At around the age of 12 or 13, he explained, our children stop looking to us so much for answers, and we don’t have as much influence. At the same time, technology is bringing the peripheral world into their online world, and into our homes. The more we forbid, the more subversive they can become. Rather than saying no, and having our children go behind our backs (much like our own parents parented, and we responded), we need to educate our children, support their autonomy, and guide them to make the right decisions.
In other words, we can limit screen time, have Internet contracts, install parental controls, know our kids’ passwords, and take any other measure to manage our children and their use of technology. But the best protection for our children, in the tween and teen years, is to have a really good, really real, relationship with them.
“There is no substitute for real time, with real relationships, with parents who really love their kids.”
– Dr Justin Coulson