by Jamie Mortimer
Children and young people love our phones. I don’t mean landlines, a practically obsolete piece of technology that we all rent for a monthly fee just so we can then pay another monthly fee to get an internet connection. I’m talking about our mobile phones, and more specifically our smart phones. It’s not a surprise. From the moment our children are born they see us holding them, looking at them and talking to these little shiny boxes. The same applies to tablets. When we grew up we used to see our parents reading the paper, reading a book, using a telephone, writing letters and having a cup of tea with friends. Now we do all of these things on our phone or tablet.
My son is nearly 7 years old. One of the first phrases he uttered when he was little was, ‘oo tube’. He knows that Facebook is a website. He knows that people post messages on twitter. He knows that you need a wi–fi connection to get on the internet. He knows what the internet is. He knows that an iPhone, an iPod and an iPad all use an iTunes account. He knows what an account is and why you would give your personal information to create an account.
So when he was 6 he was given an iPodtouch and I’ve stuck to a few very simple rules when it comes to him using it. Let’s start with the device. Its setup using my iTunes account, which means I get the email invoices for all purchases once a week. So what did I lock down? I kept it straight forward. No Safari; that’s the internet browser, so he can’t get on to websites with his device.
A password is required to purchase apps; this includes free apps as you still have to technically ‘purchase’ the app. No Facetime or iMessage app; that means no video chatting or text messaging to anyone, and that’s it. He can then do pretty much anything else; I don’t need to block content based on age ratings or content as he can’t get access to it anyway. You’d be surprised how easy it is. You just go in to the settings and restrictions and you literally toggle the apps on/off.
We have just two rules. Firstly, I look after it and he has to ask when he would like to use it. The second and most important rule is that he only gets to use it downstairs. I’ll explain. I need to monitor what he’s doing on it and his behaviour or how he responds as he plays games or reads books. It’s my job to make sure I promote acceptable behaviour and make sure he isn’t accessing inappropriate content. When he gets older and I do grant him access to the internet I want us to have formed a relationship of open trust when it comes to discussing what he has read and viewed on the internet. Once he has access to the internet it’s going to be crucial that he isn’t using his device on his own in his bedroom. If he’s been allowed to use it like that before, he isn’t going to want to change his behaviour because ‘he’s always been allowed to do it that way and it isn’t fair’ and he’d kind of have a point. Here’s the warning shot across the bows though. We all know technology changes at an ever increasing pace and that’s where I was caught out very recently. His favourite game at the moment is Sonic Racing and it pops up that there is an update, so he updates it. He even tells me he’s got an update and he’s going to download it. Brilliant! Thanks for telling me; I’m really pleased you told me. Well the next day I can hear machine gun fire. Mobile gaming is shifting towards more free apps with ‘in-app’ purchases to enhance the game play. This means games allow you to purchase tokens to buy extra content and features, and to draw you in (and generate advertising revenues) they give you free tokens for watching adverts. These adverts typically promote other apps you might want to buy and download and there is always one for a game that requires you to blow the head off something or a zombie dripping in blood. It may only be 20 seconds but its 20 seconds you don’t want your 7 year old to be viewing, at least not for a few more years. He now knows he must not view the adverts and thankfully we are well on our way to developing a healthy respect towards technology together.
Community Learning and Skills Development delivers courses across Suffolk to complete beginners to gain confidence in using technology and the internet safely and also to support parents or carers with promoting safe use of technology to children and young people. To register your interest or enrol on a course in a centre near you contact us on 0300 456 2050 or at our website: www.clsd.org.uk.
Happy and responsible gaming!