This week, it was revealed that Blennerville National School, near Tralee in Co Kerry, agreed with parents in the school, that it was time to put a ban on digital device access for students. There had been a number of incidents revolving around the access and sharing of inappropriate content and Cyberbullying. The ban on devices at home, is an 11-week pilot programme. What we would describe as a Digital Detox, only for the children in sixth class. This decision is similar to one we have been promoting in National Schools for some time now that children should never be given a ‘Smartphone'. We had been anxiously waiting to see a community who would come together and formulate a plan such as this in Ireland. A first step on this path has been publicly taken by a school and parents. We would hope that all parents would look with great interest upon it, and follow-up and try this themselves.
Here at Children of the Digital Age, we highly commend the decision and the bravery of those parents and students, who have taken this huge leap of faith in to the unknown to protect their own children. Today we are going to look at why other parents should not only follow their lead, but actually reconsider the necessity of providing a child with a ‘Smartphone'. We are also going to tell you how to take a new approach with national school children who are looking to get their own ‘Smartphone'.
Let us tell you about our experiences with children in National Schools all over Ireland, what happens during our presentations, when we ask them,” Why did you ask your parents for a ‘Phone'?. You may notice that we used the term Phone, rather than Smartphone. Children get excited at the prospect of owning their own Smartphone. Some even see it as one of the first steps on the path to maturity. To children it can display their level own of maturity to their fellow classmates. These new device owners mistakenly believe, they are mature enough to handle all of the responsibility needed, to have uninterrupted access to the online world. They are confident they are now also ready, to deal with all of the access the online world has to them, regardless of their age.
Interestingly, 6th class children, regardless of owning a device or not, will advise us that the 5th class children should not have a device. We are told that those children are far are too young”. It may surprise you to hear that when we ask children the same question in every year group from 6th class right down to 1st class, they all say the exact same thing. I am mature enough, but those children a me, younger than me are not.
While visiting National Schools all over the country, we were very curious to discover, what was it that the children had said to their parents in order to convince them to provide the child with a device. Get ready for it, this is what the children told us.
- Stay in contact with friends – Free Online Messaging
- It's a lot faster to message your friends
- Play Games
- Use Apps
- Easier to carry around
- All my friends have one
- It's an old phone that was handed down
- The screen is larger than the old phones
- Better resolution
- Better sound for music
- It has a camera
- If my parents need to contact me
Here's a question for the reader. Where do you see anything about making a PHONE CALL? You don't. The reason you did not see it, is because a child is not looking for a device to go and make phone calls. The children are looking for a device that is portable. Something that they can take with them and go online wherever they are. The term that is currently being used to describe these devices as a ‘Smartphone', is incorrect. This is NOT a ‘Smartphone', rather a small hand-held tablet that has the capabilities of making a phone call. A ‘Phone', is what these devices were before it became a mini Tablet.
By providing your child with a ‘Smartphone', you are now providing unlimited access to an online world. A world that they can choose to enter, without any parental supervision or guidance. Engage with whomever they please. Accept strangers as Friends or Followers. Be Friended or Followed by Strangers. They now have access to not only the best that the online world has to offer, but also the worst. Will you even know what a child is being exposed to on the device? From our experience, that answer will be no.
It's frightening, when we ask students the question, “how many of your parents will check your ‘Smartphone'?” The answer is very, very, few. While parents do make some effort to keep an eye on Tablet use in the home, ‘Smartphone' monitoring comes way down the list. In reality, it is an enormous task for any parent to monitor all of the Digital Doorways in the home. If you have no Parental Controls, a parent will need to monitor, all of the Consoles, Laptops, Smart TV's, Tablets, and Smartphones in the home. That is a hell of a task. It's a lot of work for a parent who knows what they are doing. What about those who don't.
The real danger in providing an unrestricted, unmonitored, unsupervised access to a device, is not only what the child has access to, but also who has access to the child. Do you know who is accessing your child through the unsecure Digital Doorway. Are they engaging with strangers? Are they being Cyberbullied? Is an individual putting pressure on your child to share an inappropriate images of themselves? Is the child lost in a world of self harm promoting content? You need to be really honest with yourself when you ask yourself these questions because unless your strictly supervising the access, then you simply will not know.
Parents will often say to us, they feel pressured themselves by their own children and by other parents who have given their children a device. They tell us they believe themselves, that if they do not provide a device to the child, then he or she will be bullied in school. Parents express their anger at having to give their child a device, just because all of other children have one. It is like a form of human domino effect. One child gets a device, they tell their classmates, then children rush home to tell parents, “Please, I have to get a ‘Smartphone', (notice we are not using the term phone), all the class have one, I can't be the only one without one”.
This is where children of the digital age step in on behalf of parents during our presentations to children. We would ask all parents to try replicate what we say to children. You have nothing to lose by trying. A parent needs to clearly identify with their child, what exactly they are asking you for. Parents really need to be stern here. Put your old school championship debating hat on. What we are attempting to achieve here is to help the child to reach this decision for themselves. There is an immense difference between what a child will want and what they actually need. As a parent you also have to consider this as there is a big choice to make that makes the difference between, am I putting my child at risk, or am I protecting my child.
Mrs Caroline O Sullivan, the Director of Services of the ISPCC, during a meeting with the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs in 2017, expressed her concern over the number of children contacting their services who had been negatively impacted by their experiences online. Having access to this technology in an unrestricted, unmonitored way is causing real world actual harm to children. It is impacting self-esteem, causing social anxiety, children feel pressured to engage in risky online behaviours that can have life altering consequences. There is no substantial good news when it comes to exposing a child to content they do not have the cognitive ability to understand or process.
What we are trying to do here is empower you the parent to protect your child from themselves. Begin by establishing with the child, why they feel they need a ‘Smartphone'. The child will undoubtedly, provide you with all of the answers we have listed earlier. At this point, you ask the question “But can you not do all of those things on your Tablet all ready?” Parents should then enjoy that moment of awkward silence. Silence even for a moment is always welcomed in a house with active children. As your child walks ever closer to this strategic parental entrapment, they may play the sympathy card. This is the line that normally tips the balance, in their favour. “How are you going to contact me, or what if I'm in trouble or I get kidnapped and I need to contact you in an emergency?”. Checkmate !!! Don't smile too broadly with the reply “Oh, it's a Phone you need, that's no problem, we can get one of those”.
The child will now be floundering, telling you that they will be bullied for having a ‘Brickphone'. It will take all day to send a text message, what about games, it has no games. In a calm collected voice you may now reply. “If you feel you are going to be bullied, do not get one, or don't show it to people. It is there so you can contact me, and I can contact you. You can also message people a lot faster on a ‘Brickphone'. Believe it or not, you can even close your eyes as type your message. But more importantly, YES, there is a game on the phone. That game is called ‘SNAKE', greatest game ever made”.
The Digital Age of Consent is currently being debated at Government level with a view to introduce legislation on the age at which a child is legally allowed to purchase and own a ‘Smartphone'. Once this has come in to law, it will provide parents who are willing to adhere to the restriction, with someone else to blame for not supplying their child with a device. Until then we would encourage parents to use our very simple and proven technique a try. Whats there to lose after all? Well the simple answer to that is quite a lot actually.
It is incredible to think, only as far back as 2014, when parents were interviewed for studies about their perceived dangers surrounding a child's access to a mobile phone, it was that a stranger might text them. We are a lot further down the road now compared to then. Our simple straightforward, and very honest advice, is never ever, provide a child with a ‘Smartphone'. You do have other options. You can even purchase a ‘Dummy Phone'. These are devices which look like a ‘Smartphone' but have no Internet access. And not that you need reminding a child will not spontaneously combust if they do not have a device.
Access to this technology is a privilege, not a right. In the long run you may discover that the device you gave to your child, was the source torment from Cyberbullying, Exclusion in games or Apps other children are using, was used access to Online Pornography, they took part in Sexting or are a victim of Online Sexual Exploitation. We also have to remember that the child is developing an online personality, a Cyber Self. This online personality all too often, is a very different personality from the child you know in the real world. It is this Cyber Self, who others may base their opinion of the child on. Not only just today or tomorrow, but for the rest of the child's life. Does any child you know have the sequential thinking capabilities to understand the risk of accessing, posting or sharing something inappropriate and how this will impact them in the future. That answer is a resounding NO.
Children have to have access to the online world. The internet has afforded us so many advantages and abilities we never had before. However it like everything in life there is always a negative that comes with the positive. A child's access to the online world has to be restricted, monitored and supervised by parents at all times. This is not a choice. You have to. Digital devices are not Digital Babysitters. Every expert working with children at present is highlighting the negative impact and toll on children over exposure to the online world is having.
This may surprise you to know, the children we meet very often tell us that they feel pressured themselves in to using the technology, be on certain Apps, and behave in a certain way online. They tell us that when their time on the device was restricted or removed, after a short time they felt a lot better. Nobody needs to be connected constantly to the online world. All ready parents of the students in Bannerville National School are noticing a difference after just one week.
We wish the students and parents of Blennerville National School, every success in their endeavours. We can state without doubt, it will be a great success for all of the families who participate. We would also encourage all National School parents to follow this lead, while this is in the public consciousness. leave a comment let us know what you think? What have been your experiences? At least by starting the conversation it raises awareness among all parents. And now that you have finished this article, why not put your own device down for little a while, get outside, talk to each other, have your own little digital detox.
More importantly, have a Great Day !!