Monday, 28 January 2013

How to safeguard your child’s use of smart devices

Should I read my child’s text messages?

In the past week or so there has been a parental issue buzzing through media agencies and newsrooms across the country. Children’s activity online  ̶  an issue that often ignites heated debate on many parental advice forums and blogs  ̶  has raised the question of the role and level of responsibility parents or guardians should take in the welfare and wellbeing of their children online.

The new-found attention has spun from a comment made by David Cameron’s new advisor on childhood, Claire Perry MP, who commented that it is ‘bizarre’ that in a world where young people have access to the internet and its associated dangers 24 hours a day, we as parents still see internet and mobile exchanges as part of their personal, private world. The overly subjective comment has captured growing attention, with the assistance of the UK’s media sensationalising the claims further, yet whether the conservative MP had premeditated the media’s reaction or not, the comment has helped bring the public’s attention back to the on-going issue of parental involvement and e-safety.

The use of smart phones and the offer of instant internet connectivity for many young people have meant a dramatic increase in the accessibility to educational opportunities and e-learning resources that help improve exam results. However, cyber bullying, sexting, trolls and hacks are just a few of the terms we are becoming more and more used to hearing. This presents a very striking challenge for parents; obviously, all of us want the best for our child academically and many of us take an active role in the development of their learning. But the reality is that by providing our children with these tools we are also unlocking the door to these concerns and potential risks.

We all like to think that our child would never consider sending a malicious text, or flag their current address and location on a social networking site, nor would we expect our child to upload an embarrassing image of a fellow student and circulate it on Flickr, but the question is, how can we be sure?

There’s no simple answer to this, or the question over whether you should read your child’s text messages. It’s a difficult and complicated issue for any parent. On the one side, it is reasonable that a child who is maturing should expect to receive a certain level of privacy and the prospect of a parent reading their conversations would send out a negative or conflicting message. On the other side of the argument the concern over a child’s safety simply outweighs the need for privacy and so a moderate amount of micro-management should be seen as a necessity rather than interference.

The increasing convergence of smart technologies mean that, for many children, they are never far away from a device that’ll offer them access to the internet, a prospect that has caused much anxiety among parents and guardians.

Whether you’ve questioned the security of your online passwords, been reluctant to enter your bank account payment details on an unfamiliar site or even sent a non-work-related email from your company account. We all have choices to make over our online safety and security, the difference being, however, is that we as adults have the emotional maturity to make reasoned choices. Whether we choose to take the best option is another question.

I could offer countless bodies of research that would argue for and against the optimal level of parental intervention but at the end of the day this is all theoretical. One size doesn’t fit all and so it must come down to you as the parent, the one person who best knows your child, to make the final decision.

How to safeguard your child online
If you decide that a cautious approach is appropriate and look to use preventative measures then there are many ways in which to do so. Starting with your hardware (device manufacturers) and software providers, many will have in-built functionality that will offer parental controls, as you have with Sky and other digital TV providers. For example, if you have several Apple iOS devices in your home you can use ratings to tailor content according to the user (here’s a guide to using parental controls on iTunes).

There are also more advanced software packages available that enable you to track all inbound and outbound SMS text messages, MMS multimedia messages, web browsing history and phone call logs (we’ll be reviewing SMS tracking software systems next week).

Taking a proactive approach is a decision that you, as the parent will need to make; if you decide it is appropriate then you should discuss the issue with your child first to avoid secrecy issues.

We appreciate that this is a somewhat delicate issue but there are a number of options available that will help to ensure your child’s safe and secure use of new technologies without hindering their access to educational resources and software.

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