Our society has fundamentally changed over the past few years. As adults, we do a lot of our work, learning and socializing through the internet, so naturally the same is true of our children. As we reflect on what to buy our loved ones for Christmas, it is important that parents have confidence in the digital devices their children use to learn, socialize and play, whether they are laptops. , game consoles or smart stuffed animals.
In the UK, 90% of 11-year-olds now own a smartphone. This access to digital tools has huge benefits for young people, helping them learn new skills, stay in touch with their friends and explore their imaginations. It is essential that they have positive experiences online and that is why internet safety is now an integral part of the school curriculum.
Google partnered with digital family life experts Parent Zone in 2018 to create Be Internet Legends, a multi-faceted program that is now used in nearly three-quarters of primary schools across the UK, reaching over one million children in 2021 alone. Research * found that children who took the training show a 50% improvement in their understanding of internet safety, while seven in ten use softer language online.
Parent Zone CEO Vicki Shotbolt says open conversations about online safety need to continue at home to be truly effective, and parents need to try to strike a balance between age-appropriate supervision and empowering parents. their children a space to play and learn.
“[Internet safety] we talk about it a lot at school, ”she says. “But it’s not enough to teach kids these things – it’s about instilling positive behaviors and making sure they know they apply both online and offline. These are messages such as being kind and caring, not going to new places without telling parents, or asking first before spending money.
Shotbolt is an advocate for the gift of technology to children. When choosing a gift, she says the most important consideration is choosing something that will bring joy to your child and stimulate their imagination. “I really think this can guide you more than anything else at Christmas,” she says.
Its best advice is to set parental controls on any device before you pack it. “Don’t wait until they’ve unpacked it to start thinking about settings,” she said. “When it’s in your child’s hands on Christmas morning, the last thing they want to do is give it back to you. “
There are free and useful tools that can give you the confidence and support you need to develop healthy digital habits in your family. One is Google’s Family Link app, which allows parents to monitor their children’s online activity and set digital ground rules, such as time limits and a device bedtime. . You can enable Google SafeSearch, which filters out explicit content from search results and is already enabled by default for children under 13 who are logged into an account managed with Family Link.
On the app side, you can pre-download kid-friendly apps through the Kids section on Google Play, including YouTube Kids, which provides a more confined environment for kids to explore video content and allows parents and guardians to guide their journey more easily. You can also activate parental controls through your broadband provider, which will cover all devices in your home.
Talking to your kids about the importance of privacy when they start using a new device can help reinforce what they learn in school – like setting strong passwords, never sharing them with anyone, and never put personal data on websites before checking in with a relative. “It’s about balancing those practical things with positive behaviors,” says Shotbolt. “Putting these two things in place means a child will be safer. Together, they can help children become more informed and engaged online citizens.
It’s only natural that when a young person buys a new gadget, they don’t want to let go – and that’s not a bad thing, says Shotbolt. “Christmas is a great time of year,” she says. “Parents shouldn’t blame their child for spending time in front of a new device. “
Beyond the holiday season, finding a healthy balance for screen time is different for every family. Research increasingly suggests that it’s not necessarily the amount of time spent online but the quality that matters, and that ultimately content doesn’t have to be educational to be useful.
“The focus shouldn’t be on how much time they spend in front of a screen, but on whether it adds or takes away from their life,” says Shotbolt. “It doesn’t have to be a math puzzle or learning Mandarin to be rewarding – it could just be a creative game. If they are happy and fulfilled, that is the most important thing.
Plus, time spent online can help your child learn and understand the digital world and make informed choices about its risks. Interactive resources such as The Legends Family Adventure shorts and the Interland game can help them continue to build their digital skills at home. “Beautiful animated films teach positive behaviors, and then kids can practice them in a safe play experience,” says Shotbolt.
Introducing young people to new technologies can be hugely beneficial: play teaches teamwork skills, video calls help them socialize, and online exploration can lead to greater independence. As long as your child is practicing good digital citizenship, connected gifts can be so much more than fun – they can be an essential part of your child’s learning and development.
* Data based on research commissioned by Google and conducted by Ipsos from April to July 2021 among 1,638 primary school students in grades 3 through 6 at 16 schools across the UK where Google provided safety training in Be Internet Legends line. For more details, please read our technical notes.