If you are a parent (or teacher) that has looked at technology and convinced yourself that it’s ‘all too hard’ and that you will never be able to keep up with the apps that your kids are using, you need to stop.
Yes you can keep up with the technology your kids are using.
There are two things I’d like you to consider:
1. My 60yr old mother has been able to pick up a tablet, regularly Skypes with relatives around the world, handles herself on Facebook and will even take photos and video and upload them. (Since first publishing this post my 93yr old grandmother was given a phone for her birthday and shown how to use Facebook. She successfully uploaded a photo and sent us all a greeting)
2. It’s not about the technology – it’s all about communication.
Every phone, tablet, console, desktop, notebook – every device, is a computer, which is really only capable of two things.
They let users share stuff with the world (text, photos, voice, music, video) or they show you stuff on your screen (text, photos, voice, music, video).
Every app that your kid is using is a fancy way of showing you something, increasingly that ‘something’ is video.
Do you need to know how to use every app your child uses?
That depends on their age.
For young children, you definitely need to know how to use every app that they access. You need to know which apps are installed, which apps include ads, which apps include in-game purchasing (my least favourite kind of game). My daughter has been using an iPad mini since the age of 2. Some of the most notorious titles are the big names (I’m looking at you Disney and Care Bears). Do a search for toddler apps and find the ‘free’ apps that let you try them before purchasing the complete game. Your toddlers and tykes will enjoy painting apps, puzzles, number & letter games and story books before moving on to more arcade-style games.
For tweens, you need to decide what boundaries you are going to place on who they can communicate with. Our 8yr old has a small circle of cousins and friends that he can Skype with while playing Minecraft. If you have a “no chatting” rule then you can limit the apps to those that don’t include online chat/voice/video or sites such as Club Penguin which have different options for the type of communication they have access to in-game. They also have a great ‘Internet Safety’ policy and information for parents to check out: https://disneyprivacycenter.com/internet-safety/
The Massively @jokaydia Minecraft Guild for kids & parents also has a fantastic Community Charter http://massively.jokaydia.com/community-charter/. There are safe places online where you can spend time with your children and teach them how to communicate safely online. (Yes you can learn how to play Minecraft, you might actually enjoy it!)
Teenagers want their privacy. However, regardless of what apps or sites they may be using, your questions and discussions only need to revolve around the basics – Who are they communicating with? Are they sharing personal information, photos, video or live chats? This is the modern “dinner-table” conversation that has replaced the “How was your day at school?” discussion.
Talk to them. Listen to them. Let them know that you are there to help if they encounter anybody that might be bullying them or be a threat to their health and well-being. You should still be setting the boundaries that you believe are best for your family – decide what ratings limit you will place on games, let them know when they’ll be able to play M15+ games, ask them to show you the trailers for games that they want to play, check out the reviews and if you decide that your child isn’t ready for games with certain content, talk to them about why and what alternatives they have. You can do a trial of new apps and see for yourself if it’s similar to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc – keeping in mind that your children’s interests are all likely to be another flavour of “chatting” and keeping in touch with their friends.
Whatever boundaries you decide to set for your children, openly communicating and negotiating is always going to work out better than taking away devices and banning apps. You CAN keep up with what they’re using, but you need to take the time and make the effort to get to know their digital neighbourhood.