Royal Grammar School

Newcastle

When my child tells me to put the phone down...

When my child tells me to put the phone down...

I know I haven’t got the joys and pressures of the digital world right. If I can’t strike a balance, I wonder if I am well placed to help them do the same…
 
Recent stories about the Momo challenge, the availability of images of self-harm on Instagram and the grooming of children online serve to remind parents and teachers that we are bringing up and educating children in a world we could have barely imagined when we were young adults ourselves. Our responses to these dangers are understandable and inevitable too. We want to shield our children from the areas of the digital world where they can come to harm. In school we use sophisticated firewalls and monitoring software to stop access to harmful material and to raise an alert when students misuse the school network either by searching inappropriately or communicating with each other in a potentially harmful way. We provide opportunities for parents to learn more about their child’s online life so they can make informed choices, and we also educate our students to take advantage of the benefits of connectivity whilst understanding the pitfalls.
 
None of it ever seems quite enough though.
 
Role modelling is a powerful tool in the E-safety armoury and one we mustn’t hesitate to use. Our children never stop learning from us and they also increasingly find the voice to criticise us too, and sometimes those criticisms are justified. We all value the connectivity we now have and most of us couldn’t conduct parts of our lives without it, but do we look down too much even as we are telling our children to look up? When we provide access to online games, do we take the time to play them ourselves? Should we? In the past a family would sit and watch TV together and in doing so would develop a culture of language and values as a result (what is funny, what is great drama, what is unacceptable). These days it is likely that if you were to walk into a family home one evening you would be greeted by a scene of each family member sitting on their own screens engaging with others, but not with each other. I had a conversation with a Dad recently who explained to me that by getting involved in the same game as his children, each on their own screen but playing against each other, he felt that sense of connection that is more familiar to the TV generation. He also thought it gave him a way in to natural conversations about the online life and the E-safety messages he is keen for his kids to have.

When emails appear on my notification screen at 8.30pm as I am putting my child to bed should I even know they are there? Why have the notification screen switched on at all? When I say “I just need to respond to this…” am I sending the right messages to my child about them being my priority (because they are), about how we all have to juggle our competing priorities as adults (because we do) or should I just let them see that I am as guilty as they may be in getting my online life wrong? When I get it wrong perhaps that is my opportunity to get it right, my way into the conversation I promise myself I will have at regular intervals about online safety.

I read a TED article recently which put aside the term digital native and suggested that we think of young people as either: 

Digital Orphans who have grown up with a great deal of tech access — but very little guidance. 
Digital Exiles who have grown up with minimal technology. 
Digital Heirs who have impressive tech skills.
 
The idea of this categorisation is that it helps us to better understand some of the pressures that our children may be under because they are different in their approach and response to what they see and do online.

It is useful to consider that in approaching E-safety one size does not fit all and that, just as in many other things, we would do well to remember our children and families are individuals with their own strengths, weaknesses and core values. Luckily there is a wealth of information out there to help parents and schools find the approach which might work. What all the advice has in common though is the belief that online safety should be as central to family dialogue as those other conversations we might have about lying, work ethic, stranger danger and appropriate boundaries of behaviour.

So, when my child says I am always on my phone, she is right; not because I am always on my phone, but because she thinks I am and she’s right to start a conversation with me about that, just as I am right to start that conversation with her about her desire to waste her time watching YouTube videos of Britain’s Got Talent…

 Sue Baillie, Pastoral Director