So this past week I have been away on holiday to the Isle of Wight with my two friends and their two-year old son, who also happens to be my Godson. Having never been away on holiday with a small child before it has been a very interesting week. I see them all normally on a weekly basis, but actually spending such dedicated time with my Godson for several days was both incredibly rewarding and also extremely exhausting. It was great fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I have suddenly come to understand why new parents are so shattered all day every day…because I swear that these children have more energy than a highly caffeinated monkey! I don’t know who needed afternoon naps more – him or me?!
Why am I telling you this, though?! Well, my Godson, like so many children these days, has a fascination of technology. Any smart device, laptop, TV or computer seems to be utterly mesmerising to them, and no matter what activity is laid before them, as soon as they glance sight of that screen then all attention is easily lost. Every parent has their own ways and reasoning for introducing their children to technology in different ways, and I certainly have no intention of, nor would claim to be a in a position to comment on which of these methods are good or bad. However, the thing that got me thinking was watching how intuitive and easily accessible our technology has become for children, and how easy we have made it to perform even the most complicated or important actions with the simple tap of a touch screen icon.
I have heard and read stories both online and from first-hand accounts of people I know of children who have had access to smart devices, even just for a few minutes, and suddenly monumental bills have been generated on various apps, or years of family photos have been deleted in a flash. I have also seen first-hand children approaching standard TV’s and not understanding why they won’t respond when they touch the screen to pause, play or swipe. The level of skill and learning, as well as a child’s ability to adapt to work this technology is amazing and fascinating to watch. However, what is equally scary is the thought of the lack of education we provide generally around using these devices safely, and the overall level of understanding of the parents and teachers as to best practice with cyber security of such devices.
Many devices these days have parental locks, child safe modes and app restrictions to enable younger members of the family to use family devices on the internet safely, even if they get curious and try to access more than they should (which will inevitably happen). However, this is just the first step of prevention by removing the risk of accessing some of those potential dangers. However, in addition to this I firmly believe that children should also be taught exactly why these restrictions are in place and how to protect against accessing content they shouldn’t, and what to do if they do access content that they shouldn’t, just as a matter of course during our everyday lives. It is a new thought to have to bring to the educational table given that much of this technology is new for the parents and teachers, let alone the children themselves, but that doesn’t make it any less vital or necessary.
We teach our children from a young age about how to safely cross a road, why you shouldn’t wander off with strangers, why you should seek out a Police Officer if you’re lost or scared, and why you shouldn’t eat crayons (although, I know some adults who still find that one difficult to avoid at times…). So given we teach all of those skills and impart all of that knowledge, why can’t we now begin to also teach them fundamentally about device safety and usage from a young age as well so that we can begin to instil good, positive cyber security foundation work for them to develop throughout their lives as they progress in their education, learning and eventually their careers?
I am sure that this does happen and I have spoken to many parents before at events and conferences about how they try to educate their children, but I think we can go further by helping parents and teachers in doing this by providing solid educational material and messages for these adult groups to build their understanding of why these lessons are important. In fairness, with the introduction of new cyber related curriculums in schools I think some lessons are now being taught, such as social media stranger danger, and so forth.
However, I have unfortunately seen and heard of children who educate their parents on the use of technology, whether that is around a smartphone, TV or computer, or even the internet of things, and as sweet and encouraging as this is, how can the parent be assured that the advice they are receiving from their child is indeed the correct advice? Therefore, it isn’t just the children who need to be educated, but the parents as well.
The raising of awareness in this field is vital to the future improvements in our society as a whole around cyber security and the better and safer use of technology in our everyday lives. I would love to see awareness and availability of such educational material and resources increase across the board (and ideally for free!). Sites such as www.cyberstreetwise.com and www.getsafeonline.org are excellent starting points with some excellent advice and reference material, with solid government backing. However, I feel we need to go further in supporting families to become better prepared and more knowledgeable in the field of cyber security so that it becomes almost second nature.