My children have had access to technology from a very young age. From the moment they were able to grip a mouse they have sat on my knee and navigated the Cbeebies website. As they have grown up they have adopted tablet and mobile as if it were second nature to them. Gaming online and off, creating followings on social media and mastering Garageband and Ableton without breaking a sweat. They have a digital skill set that would put a lot of adults to shame.
Unfortunately the education system here in the UK has worked at a slow pace to introduce digital into their curriculums. It is testament to the ability of most children that when part of next year's computer science GCSE was posted online that it was quickly viewed thousands of times by students looking for the exam answers. It also speaks volumes that the education system dealt with this by posting on sites where the leaks had happened, that they are monitoring these websites. I would suspect that any self respecting IT savvy kid would see this threat as more of a challenge to learn how to mask their IP address as opposed to any real deterrent.
In a world where we are all so absorbed by digital I want to do my best as a parent to make sure that my kids have a fighting chance when they get into the world of work, and in our competitive society I am not about to wait for the education system to catch up.
Parents, if you have the know-how you need to take your children’s digital education into your own hands or there is a good chance they will be left behind
There is however a more sinister side to letting your children run wild with a computer and although I think it is important to encourage your kids to be digitally minded, it is also important to not rely on your devices as your electronic babysitter.
Safety online is definitely a worry for parents. While it’s so difficult in this day and age to monitor everything your children are doing online, there are however solutions for parents to protect their kids, especially when they are very small, using a child-friendly search engine like Kiddle for example, can definitely help with your peace of mind. I must confess as mine have got older I have worked on the basis of hoping that their moral code will keep them from searching for things they shouldn’t see. I suppose I am definitely using a naive and optimistic parenting model, but let's face it, you can put all the parenting controls in place that you want, but it won’t stop some kid in the playground introducing your child to something unsavoury.
In addition to safety, recent research is fueling the debate against too much screen time from a young age for health reasons.
From physical health issues including increasing rates of child obesity through being more sedentary, a predicted Myopia eye health epidemic; to the psychological issues of a generation with unrealistic ideals of beauty, dwindling self-esteem and social skills.
It goes without saying that as well as encouraging our children to use technology we also need to encourage them to take part in ‘normal human behaviour’, at least some of the time. Generation Z are digital natives, the first generation to be born into a smartphone-dependent society whose subjects are immersed in a virtual world. They have no experience of playing out in the street for the entirety of the six weeks school summer holidays. They don’t know the basic joys of ‘Penny for the Guy’ or ‘Knock and Run’.
In contrast, we parents lack the understanding of what it is to grow up in a time when you can be bullied in the safety of your own home, the dangers of cyber predators or the enormity of having the world at your fingertips.
Meal times without gadgets, a curfew at night and the odd extracurricular club (that isn’t reliant on screen time) are some of the things that I do to try and give my children a sense of what I considered to be a ‘normal childhood’.
There are pros and cons to the digital age, as there have been pros and cons for each generation since time began. The digital genie is out of the bottle and there is no way of putting it back, all we can do now as parents is help our children to embrace their newfound opportunities in a safe and supportive way, whilst trying our best to keep at least one of their feet grounded in reality.