Monday, 28 January 2013

Safeguarding children online.

Are the risks of being online overstated, in comparison to the opportunities? Aren’t any risks too great when it comes to safeguarding children?

I’ve been reading Dr Tanya Byron’s report from 2008 on safeguarding children online, and her update from 2010. In online terms, a small eternity has passed since she was first commissioned by the UK government, and there has been some progress, but much more is needed in how e-Safety is taught. So far, the comment that has stuck fast in my mind is that the generational divide between us parents and our children, has had a profoundly negative effect upon our children’s interaction with technology. Because we, as parents, do not understand the technology that our children are exposed to, and because we, as parents, are fundamentally risk-averse when it comes to our children, we are denying the opportunities that technology can provide, and overstating the risks.

Take the video games = violent children debate. The media coverage I’ve read consistently conflates correlation with causality. This kind of attitude informs how we let our young engage with technology. As a technologist, I’m appalled that even though we have the sum of the world’s knowledge in our smart phones, we are afraid to share it with our young. As a parent, I’m appalled that the sum of the world's knowledge is available to our children, without judgement and without conscience.

So what should I do about it? I don’t think I’ve read a convincing answer yet, so I’ll keep reading. Perhaps that’s the key. I think it’s inevitable that my children will outstrip me in technological prowess. After all, I’m not as bright and shiny and new as I used to be. Moreover, it is my hope that my children will be brighter and shinier than I ever was.

I think my job, as a parent, is to remain sensitive to the way the world is opening up to my children, and learn as they learn. By doing so, I can help them develop the key tools of critical evaluation and self-regulation. After that, I must trust that they will use these tools to keep themselves safe, and not only on the internet. Much as I desperately wish to, I’m not going to always be there, to make everything alright again.

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