Wednesday 23 October 2019

Alex Cooney: 'Buying tablet, phone or Xbox entails taking responsibility'

  

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Alex Cooney

With Christmas fast approaching, I know many parents are under pressure to get mobile phones, tablets or gaming devices for their kids and I am no different.

My six-year-old would love an Xbox but, truth be told, I'm not ready to give him one yet. While I totally understand the fun side of gaming, I'm not ready for him to have greater access.

He gets to play the odd game on the family tablet, but I don't want the added pressure of him owning a device. That ownership brings a greater sense of entitlement and it also brings greater responsibility for parents.

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At CyberSafe Ireland, our experience as a charity providing online safety education is that many parents are struggling with their children's access to the online world. Parents are giving into pressure to get the device or download the latest game.

Ideally, this decision should be an informed one based on the child's overall readiness and maturity levels rather than because "everybody else is allowed". There also needs to be familiarity on the ramifications of children's access to the online world and helping them prepare for it.

Parents play a fundamentally important role in protecting and empowering their children online. It is essential they are actively engaged in their children's online lives and especially when they are young.

It's like preparing our children to cross the road. Ultimately, we'll need to trust that we have prepared them sufficiently well to exercise good judgment in doing so.

There are many benefits to children embracing technology in a positive way: learning how to code, for example, will be a skill that will stand them in good stead in many future employment opportunities. Online access can also be an incredible learning resource, and there are plenty of opportunities to socialise and to have fun.

But we must always keep in mind that the internet was not designed with children in mind. We need to teach them to value and protect their data, to treat people offline as they would in real life, to find a healthy balance and to feel empowered to question and challenge what they see and hear online.

We can do that by making it really normal to talk about what they are seeing and doing online, by discussing 'fake news', advertising and how people can pretend to be someone they are not online. There are so many good resources out there for parents, including our website: Cybersafeireland.org, Webwise.ie and Commonsensemedia.org.

As parents we can also get stuck in by playing games with them or watching their favourite YouTube clips: co-use is actually a great way to start introducing technology to children. We can set parameters around use and employ technical controls.

If you've decided this Christmas is the time for your child to get their first device, then be as prepared as possible for the responsibility that comes with it - even before the paper is torn off and the excitement begins.

Alex Cooney is CEO of Cybersafe Ireland

Irish Independent

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