In this week’s newsletter article I want to continue with the theme of wise and safe use of technology.
Last Thursday night we launched our school’s partnership with the eSmart program. This is a two to three year program to establish a framework that will give students a wide set of skills related to knowing and understanding how to use technology well. We will certainly be communicating more as time goes by on this topic. The eSmart framework involves students, teachers and parents, therefore, I encourage you all to visit their website to learn more.
Last Thursday night was also a wonderful opportunity for parents and staff to hear from Susan McLean, a highly experienced communicator and expert on cyber safety for schools and parents. Her presentation was frank and, at times, confronting as she highlighted the dangers of the digital world. It was also encouraging in saying that we are not powerless, rather, we are challenged as a school and as parents to step up and work together, guiding our children’s online activity.
We have received a great deal of positive feedback from the evening and I would like to share some of my ‘take-aways’ from the presentation.
We are to be parents not friends:
Our role as parents means that we are responsible for the protection and actions of our children. Thus, there will be times when we need to make decisions that are going to disappoint our children. While we may be accused of being the ‘only parent’ doing this or the ‘worse parent’ for taking a stand, it is actually the right thing to do for our children’s safety.
The use of digital technology in bedrooms, bathrooms, and other out of view places gives us no chance to provide adequate support to children being exposed to or engaging in harmful online content or behaviour. Charging of devices needs to be in a common area of the house. It is also our responsibility to raise our children to be truthful, including online (especially when it comes to age restrictions on apps).
Proactively establish boundaries and have conversations at home regarding digital technology before matters become critical. To use one of Susan’s analogies, you would not teach your child to ride a bike and then install the breaks after they have had a crash or learned to ride with risk.
Kids will be kids:
Curiosity and accidents often lead children to stumble onto content that is harmful. Children act and respond to situations in impulsive or unwise ways. It is our responsibility to provide structures, boundaries and practices to avoid as many of these situations as possible.
There is no hiding from technology:
Digital technology and its capabilities are becoming a more significant part our lives at an increasing rate. We cannot claim ignorance. Nor can we claim that our children would not be involved in or be exposed to harm. Rather, become familiar with technology and place age and timing restrictions on Wi-Fi routers, mobile devices, laptops, computers, gaming consoles and TVs. Check out the manuals that come with these devices or look up information online (searching on ‘parental controls’ for a particular device).
The online world is a public space:
This is a key concept with regard to Respect, Responsibility and Reputation. The online world is not anonymous or private. Information that many people consider private can be captured and accessed easily by others. What you communicate digitally, even with a seemingly private/anonymous app, is equivalent to carrying out the same action in the middle of a public space. When considering what some young people put online, I very much doubt they would choose to replicate it in public at, for instance, the local shopping centre.
Filtering software can help:
However, there are always limitations. We have reviewed the functionality of the school’s firewall to clarify what it does and does not block. Our school’s firewall does prevent access to download data used by apps such as Musical.ly (a particularly dangerous and unsuitable social network app) but it will not block access to the iTunes store. Thus, parents setting restrictions on the device is a key step in preventing the download of apps (without your knowledge) on your children’s devices. The class teacher will contact families of Primary students in advance regarding any apps required for class use.
There are many web-filtering products available. Susan McLean recommended Family Zone as an effective product across a range of device types. William Carey’s firewall and filtering software is a Family Zone product and we are currently investigating further options for student and families.
Finally, there is no silver bullet to protect our children:
Any single layer of protection can be worked around. That is a reality of the digital world and the motivation of some individuals. Rather it is a matter of partnership between home and school. Providing our children with good training and role models, plus the establishment of structures and boundaries at school, at home and on devices will be critical in improving rates of protection. It is the combination of multiple approaches that will help our children develop the skills of wise and safe users of technology. For this to be a reality, we need your help.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24 and 31-33