Don't blame technology, blame the parents

World Wide Web
As much as we'd like to, we can't protect our kids from everything bad in the world

According to the annual survey of connected kids by ChildWise, five- to 16-year-olds in the UK are spending up to six hours of their day in front of a screen - and their parents are increasingly clueless about what they're up to.

The story made most of the papers, including the Daily Mail, which took a balanced look at the pros and cons of technology and the difficulties of keeping up with the online activities of children.

Only kidding. It dubbed technology "toxic" and warned of children building "multi-media hubs", which they say include games consoles and MP3 players.

So, what can we do to prevent our children from falling into the evil clutches of "multi-media hubs"? Well, we could start by realising that most children aren't using technology to catch up on their homework. But out of sight doesn't necessarily mean out of control: there are parental controls on Macs, on PCs, in iPhones, Xbox 360s, Sky+ boxes and some DVD players. You can even route your web traffic through the excellent OpenDNS to filter out things you don't want your kids to see.

Sadly, that will only do so much. Parental controls and OpenDNS won't filter out offensive content pretending to be something innocuous. They won't warn your teenage daughter that those cameraphone photos probably won't stay private, or stop people from scouring social networks for parties to crash.

You can't stop other parents from being irresponsible either, and you can't stop their kids from showing your kids inappropriate content on their consoles, PCs or phones. Of course, if you've got teenagers then parental controls are probably a waste of time anyway.

As much as we'd like to, we can't protect our kids from everything bad in the world - but what we can and should do is give them the skills and the support they need to deal with the things they'll surely encounter. Part of that means looking beyond the headlines to discover the real dangers, and by dangers we don't mean porn and predators.

Of course they exist, but in the real world our children are much more likely to experience electronic bullying from people they know, post things they'll later regret, or to fall under the spell of websites promoting dangerous ideas.

Technology isn't toxic, but the world is - and if we don't engage with our children, if we don't understand the benefits technology brings them and the risks that come attached, then we're not doing our job. Staying up to date and involved isn't easy, but then, what part of parenting is?


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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.