Being a parent can often involve a multitude of roles covering everything from cleaner to chef or chauffeur to psychoanalyst and the negotiation talents of Alan Sugar for when it comes to mealtimes/bedtimes or bickering between siblings is often helpful.
The latest required string to my parental bow is the need for technology know-how. Don’t get me wrong, I can confidently find my way around the internet, am fairly proficient in Word, Excel and Powerpoint and hopefully Social Media savvy (although still trying to become enamoured by Twitter). However, when we bought our 10-year-old son a tablet for his birthday in December, his knowledge of the internet in a week left me in the dust. Trying to keep up with him clicking between various tabs was like trying to understand the conversations in one of the modern Star Wars films. In the early days of his new gadget, I sat down with him to ‘show him the ropes’ but instead ended up with my first-born helping me create a Google account while he become frustrated trying to explain Google + to me. Say What Now?
This is the child that has looked to me for advice from birth. Those big green eyes have penetrated my soul as he has quizzed me about all manner of weighty subjects over the last ten years, as I in turn imparted my pearls of wisdom about what worms eat, or if Spiderman has to wee like normal people, but computers, this is a whole new world that I wasn’t ready to share with him yet. A world that he is sort of doing a lot better at than me worryingly.
Our son is not only a bit of a computer whizz kid, but I am proud to think that he is a sensible little fella too. He has a nice group of friends that are all polite boys, we have never had any fears of him being bullied and on the whole, apart from the usual strops about going to bed early or not wanting to eat his broccoli, he is a happy child. And like most other parents, I thought I knew my son, we talk a lot, he tells me lots of things about his school life, he talks to me regarding his concerns about whether he’ll make the Chelsea soccer squad when he’s an adult and I in turn try to steer him to other career choices, but I was suitably shocked to discover that my innocent little man was actually making YouTube videos.
He sometimes borrows my laptop as he started writing a blog last year (http://williamsmatchoftheday.wordpress.com/) and I am actively encouraging this new-found desire for creativity by allowing him use of my computer. However, when he left it logged on (again!) the other night after he had gone to bed, the only tab open was YouTube displaying the numerous videos he and his friends have been making.
The thing is, my son and his friends are addicted to Minecraft and for those of you who are not familiar with this game, it is basically a combat, building, strategy type game with graphics which remind me of those that were used on Ceefax many years ago. Yet despite its seemingly awful layout, it has become the biggest thing for young gamers worldwide and most definitely amongst my son’s friends. He has assured me that the Minecraft he plays is only single player mode and that the things he builds/blows up are only in his realm and that he doesn’t have the ability to talk to anyone on the site. Phew…However, he and his friends are sharing their Minecraft creations with each other on YouTube. To me, this is mental. YouTube is a place I use to view music videos and film trailers, YouTube is also the place some people go to watch porn, upload dodgy videos of themselves and a lot of stuff that is definitely not suitable for a naïve 10-year-old. My other major concern, when I saw the fresh face of my son on his YouTube video talking to his friends and the World Wide Web (argh!) about his latest Minecraft tactics, is who else is watching this!
This then provoked the conversation I had been dreading. Me and hubby sat down and talked to our innocent boy about the risks he runs from posting videos on YouTube, that it’s not just his mates that could be watching and that some bad grown up people may pretend to be a 10-year-old Minecraft fan and will want to talk to him and that’s not OK. The confused expression that I was met with during this conversation made my heart skip. This young boy of mine is on the verge of growing up and is doing so into a very different world that I experienced when I was his age. My computer knowledge at 10 was watching my older brother take at least 15 minutes to load Pac-Man onto his Spectrum with ear-piercing screeching noises emitting from his cassette deck.
I’m excited for my children’s technological future and I personally want them to embrace it (within reason) and be able to become savvy in its positive sides. If tablets and whiteboards are the way forward in the classroom then I want my children to know their way around them with their safety being paramount. I talked with my son about how people should act appropriately online and what sites he is allowed on. We have told him to never use his real name or to show his face in any YouTube videos, if he needs an avatar then he should use a cartoon one like mine. As an extra safety measure, I am attempting to fold washing behind the chair in which he sits on his tablet and have a little peek at what he is accessing.
When we bought the tablet for his birthday present we downloaded the parental controls as suggested by the information provided, however, it wasn’t very clear to me what he was protected from exactly. Can he stumble across adult content from an innocent Google search? Can he be cyber bullied on gaming websites? What should I be worried about when it comes to him being online unsupervised? It makes me feel unable to protect him from this virtual world he is embracing and such a long way from the days he spent creating pictures of the Tweenies on the CBeebies website. But as long as we make this technological journey together or with my interfering eye over his shoulder, there’s no reason for him not to benefit from this new world he is discovering.
If you have any concerns over your children’s safety online, there is help available. The ever so knowledgable people at Childnet are launching a Safer Internet Day on 11 February to help concerned parents and their tech savvy children explore how to enjoy the internet in a safe and responsible way. Virtual worlds needn’t be places to fear, Disney Club Penguin are running the campaign ‘It Starts With You’ which also offers help to parents and children on how to make the online world a better place. Just make sure you ask permission before using your child’s tablet to look them up.