To advise parents of the best way to help raise kids who will be responsible and safe users of technology and the online world, one can only hope to do so be talking, interacting and learning from the kids themselves. Recently I started a series of interviews and surveys to try and gauge an accurate account of not only what the kids are doing online, but more importantly, their attitudes to what parents, teachers and cyber safety experts are trying to teach them.
Here is a snapshot of one of the interviews which seems to be fairly typical of many of the responses. This particular boy is nearly 15 years old, a good student and no behavioural issues beyond the norm! His name is not Jack but I will call him that.
Me: What are the main apps you use and how do you access them?
Jack: I mainly use Facebook private messaging, youtube for watching videos and sometimes Instagram to check in what people are doing. I mainly use my ipad. I have one for school and one at home.
Me: How would you describe your parents knowledge of what you do online?
Jack: My mum knows a fair bit about technology and stuff because she uses it for work. She mainly hangs out on Facebook though. There would be heaps of sites she would never have heard of though. I have probably used lots that she doesnt know about. But I don’t use others that much anyway. I think she kind of trusts me and knows I dont really do any dumb stuff.
Me: What sort of dumb stuff?
Jack: Oh just the usual, putting random stupid photos up that get you in to trouble or are just embarrassing. I have known lots of kids who put something online and then they get caned with their comments. Then they feel all bad and stay off for a while or fight back and end up in arguments online. We also had someone take a video of a guy dancing when he was drunk at a party and it was pretty funny but he felt pretty embarrassed when it was on Facebook by Monday morning.
Me: Why do you mainly use instant messaging on Facebook rather than normal status updates?
Jack: Oh its just easier when you want to have a conversation with your mates and you don’t need everyone else’s drama. I got involved in a fight on Facebook once with this other guy and it was just annoying really. It hangs around for a while and you know everyone else has seen it so I just try to avoid it all now.
Me: Why Facebook and not Kik? Is it because of the age restrictions on Kik?
Jack: Ah, no. I dont think anyone actually ever looks at age restrictions. It would probably make you want to use it more. (lol) But it is just what my friends are doing and we find Facebook easier to message each other. If they were on Kik then we’d use that instead. Theres no difference really. Its just whatever your group is doing. We used Kik for a while but then just changed back. Cant remember why.
Me: So if someone were to tell you you couldn’t use Kik because of the age restrictions, what would be your response?
Jack: Well people probably have before. I mean the schools try and tell you what you can’t have but you just put the apps back on when you leave. Like we were supposed to get rid of all our games on our ipads and the teachers were making us do it in class. One of my mates said to me, “dont worry there is an app that hides all your games anyway”. Even if you have to get rid of them, it takes like 10 seconds to put them back on.
Me: So when teachers or someone comes to your school to talk to you about cyber safety, do you take anything they say on board?
Jack: Sometimes. But not when they say stuff like, dont use this app or that site. That kind of just makes us want to use it more. Kids my age dont really like being told what we can and cant do so it makes it seem more fun if you say we cant use it. We still know theres lots of bad stuff that can happen but sometimes you have to learn that by yourself. Thats why I dont do a lot on Facebook anymore because it was just annoying. I used to use Qooh.me but its just like the worst place to hang out . There are too many psychos who just say the worst stuff just to get noticed or something. I woudn’t touch it now but thats mainly cause I saw for myself the stupid stuff people do.
Me: So what advice would you have for someone like myself who is trying to help parents and kids remain safe online?
Jack: Just understand that kids will probably do the opposite of what you say if you just keep nagging stuff. I guess you have to know that they will be using all sorts of apps and will always find a way around stuff. I would say you need to help them not be stupid by knowing the kinds of stuff they are doing and talking to them about it rather than just telling them you cant do this, you cant do that. We do kind of listen when you say some stuff but we probably learn more by just being online ourselves and seeing what other people are doing.
Whilst this is just one of the responses, it gave me plenty of information, but also the knowledge that we need to keep doing what I believe is the best way to help our kids make those good choices. Start early. Communicate often. Empathy, kindness and self worth must play a major role in their nurturing. Remain on top of what is going on in their world and be sure to have open communication and a connection that remains throughout adolescence. Lecturing isn’t going to help. It needs to be an ongoing conversation.