Five New Year resolutions for parents of the digital native

The Telegraph, 03.01.16, making New Year’s resolutions can be a powerful way of identifying the changes we want to see. For most young people, however, ‘resolution’ probably refers to the clarity of an online image rather than a promise to self for the coming year. says HMC Chair Mike Buchanan, Head of Ashford School.

So now seems a good time to suggest some New (Technology) Year’s resolutions to help young people have a digitally sane and safe 2017.

As parents, we all know that keeping our children safe is primarily our responsibility. Most cyber bullying takes place out of school hours and these tips are just another form of sensible guidance necessary for navigating teenage hood. However, this is new territory and schools need to work with parents to set boundaries and share expert knowledge.

At HMC, we have been working to understand more about good practice and how pupils in all types of schools are using technology. For example, in 2016 we discovered that nearly half of teenagers we polled were checking their devices multiple times overnight, leading to tiredness and lack of concentration. Especially given the increased pressures on young people – including at exam time – this is serious and needs action.

So now, at the start of 2017, here are five things parents might like to consider to help children use digital technology wisely:

1. Don't assume all use of technology is bad use of technology.

It's all too easy to assume that mobile devices are evil and should generally be avoided. This is particularly so when we read about cases of bullying that lead to suicide or despicable acts of online grooming.

However, most young people navigate the risks of the world successfully including the online world and there is much to the gained from appropriate use of technology for learning, leisure and socialising with friends across the world.

2. Show your child how to use tech well.

It's important that we model good behaviour and exert maximum influence over safe use of tech as soon as we are able and before the friendship groups get their chance.  Just as we would not send our child out on to the streets to learn for themselves how to cycle safely, we should not let them loose with a mobile device until we have set boundaries and taught them how to keep out of danger.

Of course, they will protest that they don't need to be taught and they probably know more about digital stuff than you do. So we all need to do our homework and ask our children to show us what they know.

For example, how should they keep privacy settings up to date? Which apps are the highest risk when it comes to security and misuse?  What does a bad digital footprint look like and what are the possible consequences?

What are the most common mistakes made by teenagers when using social media? How do you keep yourself safe from strangers? How do you get help if you are worried about something? What should l you do if you are subjected to cyber bullying?

3. Know what your child is doing online

This is tricky but arguably no more so than knowing what our teenage son or daughter is up to offline. On the whole, teenagers are driven by two competing factors. The first is never to stand out from the crowd (hence the desire increasingly to do whatever their mates are doing) and, secondly, to be an independent individual (hence the desire to keep their lives increasingly private from you).

Most teenagers manage these competing drivers with great success and also manage to enjoy a rich family life. This is often because their parents recognise what is happening and provide a clear framework of support, communication and earned autonomy within which they can grow.

Of all of these, constant communication seems to me to be the most vital and that includes talking about their online lives. This does not mean spying or constant monitoring but it does mean being aware of and acting on concerns just as you would for any other matter.

4. Give your child options to get help

Generally, we all try to give our children the knowledge and skills to deal with their own concerns as well as advising them directly on what to do. When it comes to their online life it’s often sensible to direct them to knowledgeable sources such as other family members, school staff or Childline, the NSPCC or Digitial Awareness UK.

Have a look at these sites together (it will help answer the questions above) and keep their contact home in a prominent place such as stuck to the fridge door as a frequent reminders of where to go for help. It's the same as making sure they know how to dial 999 in an emergency.

5. Take a digital detox

Most of us are now dependent on the digital world for work and at home. Take a look at your own use of your digital devices before you start lamenting at that of your children - they're just copying you!

It's not uncommon these days for families to have a regular digital detox if only for an hour or a day or a weekend. Switch them off, lock them away together in a cupboard and see what comes of it.

None of us are completely sure how to navigate the uncertainty of continuous digital developments. But at the very least they make great dinner table conversation with your teenagers.

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