The world today is a vastly different place to the one that many of us grew up in, one reason being technology, and more specifically the internet.
When I was very young the internet simply did not exist. I vaguely remember just getting to grips with how computers worked as I left secondary school, but children today are growing up with the world at their fingertips, which is a wonderful yet dangerous set of possibilities to grow up in.
Nowadays the majority of adults and teenagers will have a mobile phone, computer, or tablet, or maybe even all of the above, which grants them access to the internet and social media. It is almost a rite of passage that as a child gets old enough they earn their first mobile phone. This can be for a variety of reasons, the main one being to communicate with their parents as their independence grows and they begin to venture out into the real world. We spend their younger years preparing them for the real world, however we just as equally need to be preparing them for the cyber world too.
With the internet inextricably woven into the day-to-day reality of most people, children are constantly exposed to its influence. A lot of the children in my setting talk about their “tablets” or the “games on mummy’s phone”, and technology is truly a marvellous thing to introduce to children. It can help them to develop their cognitive and motor skills, and even language and comprehension.
A lot of children are already out-performing adults as they come to terms with how to use the continuously advancing technologies of the world; my stepson can navigate a tablet a lot faster than I can!
I strongly believe technology and the internet can be positive tools and whilst we can certainly teach children more, and sooner, about the risks involved, I don’t believe that fear should be our main driver. Many may feel banning the internet or technology altogether until a child hits a certain age is the way to go, but I would have to disagree. Rather than scaring them away from the inevitable, we should be giving children the tools and understanding to navigate the online world.
At my setting we (unfortunately) do not have many technology-based toys, which is something that I am trying to turn around, but this doesn’t mean that we are unable to teach them about technology. We have books that touch on the risks of going online, created in a basic, easy to follow way using cute illustrations and simple language. We can have circle time discussions about the internet and what it can and cannot be used for, helping them understand all of the things they are capable of learning and how they can learn it. We can also work in partnership with parents to help them encourage their children to use technology safely when at home.
Some parents may not realise the simple things that can keep their children safe when using online devices. For example, almost all electronic devices will have a password or code needed to access it, ensuring that children cannot use them without the knowledge of a parent. Blocks can be put on to make sure children cannot access the internet or some of the age-inappropriate material that is out there. Simply supervising a child can be the safest precaution parents can take, as you can clearly hear and see what the child is using. Many tablets can now be set up with a time limit to ensure children are not using them for prolonged periods of time.
It is obvious that the time children use electronic devices significantly outweighs the time we spend teaching them about the risks involved. Some children are plonked in front of a screen for a remarkably long time and it is unnerving that they do not always realise the power of the colourful, noisy, entertainment capsule that they hold in their hands. Of course children of a very young age won’t fully understand the concepts of technology, but children need to be given a bit more credit about how much they can understand. We won’t and shouldn’t be giving full on ICT lessons about how tablets and computers are wired, but we absolutely can teach about how devices should and could be used. From experience, children will take it all in.
I see many children happily tapping away on their parent’s phones in the supermarket so that mum or dad can finish their shopping hassle-free, and that’s great, why shouldn’t they? They have a tool at their disposal that can keep their child happy and content whilst they complete a mundane task like shopping, but do their children know what they are holding can be used for more than just games? There is no reason why children shouldn’t be simultaneously learning about the joys of technology, whilst learning how to use it wisely. Tech is not going anywhere, and children need to be able to safely explore it as they grow up in a world where we use it more and more frequently.
How do you help children learn about online safety at your setting? Join the conversation and share your experiences using the hashtag #mynurserylife.