Stay wired with the kids

Julie Watkins, pictured with her daughter Miranda, is savvy with the digital world too.
Julie Watkins, pictured with her daughter Miranda, is savvy with the digital world too. John McCutcheon

A GENERATION ago children were teaching grandma to use the microwave or set the VCR.

These days it is kids teaching their parents how to use social networking sites and navigate the web.

When the role as educator is reversed, how do parents keep their children safe in a world they have little understanding of themselves?

Young and Well Co-operative Research Centre chief Jane Burns said giving children access to mobile phone and other digital technologies should be dictated by safety, trust, responsibility and need.

"About 70% of parents are worried about digital technology and it's important to talk about the use of technologies from any early age," she said.

"For little kids, making sure children are safe is very different experience to the conversations you need to have with a teenager.

"I have children aged five, two and one and I'm already having conversations about use of the phone and iPad and what you use that for.

"My two-year-old already knows how to operate the iPad.

"We use the iPad for entertainment, but you must put in place limits, structures and rules and make sure its safe.

"They do not know a world without technology.

"As a parent in a world where children are connected, it's essential we get ourselves educated and up to speed."

Mother-of-three Judy Watkins, from Mountain Creek, hopes she was on the right track with her teens as she learned to deal with digital parenting.

She said she believed it was about embracing changes and trying to look at the positives as well as the negatives.

"When we had one computer in the living area and everyone had to share, that was an easy way we could monitor their use," she said.

"But we encouraged our children to get part-time jobs and they each saved up to buy themselves a laptop, which ended up in their own rooms.

"The biggest fear for younger teens is the enormity of what they can access on that big worldwide web.

"I did research on net nannies, but they were 15 or 16 by then, so we made a decision not to put anything in place.

"We were worried about whether we were doing the right thing.

"My kids did get exposed to things I'd rather they didn't, but no more than they did at school anyway.

"We just made sure we had conversations with them about their internet use and continued to expand on those when they were using social networks.

"We talked to them about what they were putting on those sites, that they were there forever and lots of people might be able to access their photos and statuses including future employers.

"We weren't parents who would stand over the backs of children, we would have conversations away from them about what's appropriate and not appropriate. We relied on trust and I think that worked both ways."

Mrs Watkins said while she was computer-literate, she faced a huge learning curve when she went back to university in 2008.

She said her children still laughed at her trying to use various programs and websites, but she believed it was important to keep up to date with technology and the way her children communicated.

Ms Burns said parents should take children and young people's expertise in the online world seriously.

She said harnessing their skills to educate parents could be an important tool in keeping the communication lines open.

"With children it's about good parenting and putting in place rules and safety settings, there are guides for safety on remotes, phones, computer," she said.

"For children there is a closed social networking site, called Superclubs Plus, to teach them about being a good digital citizen.

"It actually provides them with an opportunity to learn in a structured environment where they can learn from mistakes.

"For teenagers, I don't think a set of rules in place is particularly beneficial.

"I think as children reach their teenager years, there's a search for autonomy and finding their own place and space.

"Relationships shift from top-down parenting to a conversation in a respectful relationship.

"This is where the opportunity to have these conversations early can continue as children become teenagers.

"Resources like the Vodafone digital parenting book shows you how to set up safety guides with Microsoft, Facebook and Google.

"This is just another space for young people and they don't differentiate between online and offline worlds."



  • Parents should educate themselves in how to use the digital devices and media their children and teens are using.
  • Ask young people to learn about cyber safety through training available online; ask them to take you through it too.
  • Start having conversations with young children about respectful online relationships and behaviour; continue them through teenage years.
  • For a handy guide for parents, visit website and download the new magazine.

Topics:  children internet ipad kids parenting social media technology

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