IT Expert | Dad of Two
My wonderful son, Freddie, is three years old. Like many of his age, he’s already familiar with technology.
His favourite use of technology so far is YouTube. He can already choose what he wants to watch on an iPad or on “daddy’s phone,” and is both adept and impatient when it comes to skipping the adverts. When we watch “old fashioned” TV, he doesn’t really understand why he has to actually watch the adverts!
As someone who’s worked in the IT industry for over two decades, I flatter myself that I’m as aware as anyone of the dangers my son will face online. I’ve helped clients keep things as safe as possible for their own offspring in the past. I have also – on a few occasions – had to be the one to alert people to the kind of content being accessed from the family computer.
With all this in mind, I certainly don’t envy parents who lack technical expertise. The dangers that the internet will expose my son to as he grows older, especially into teenage years, frighten even me – and I’m probably in a better place than most to mitigate against them. However, so long as I stay up-to-speed with online trends and technologies, I shouldn’t ever find myself in a position where I’m “flying blind,” or one where he knows more about the online world than I do!
For that reason, I thought I’d share some of my future plans for keeping my son safe and secure online. The strategy for this will obviously differ from family to family.
For example, I’m a firm believer in letting my child enjoy the benefits of the internet. I also know, from personal experience, that you sometimes need to balance what you think you should allow with the potentially damaging effects of excluding your offspring from something their peers are doing. Other people’s beliefs will differ, but I still hope that some of my own ideas could benefit others. So here they are:
1. Promote the importance of “offline time”
My intention is to extend this to other areas of life as he grows older – promoting “tech detoxes” when on family holidays, and banning iPhones around the dinner table for starters. This must be a two-way street – so my wife and I must be prepared to put the devices down too!
While I can almost hear the laughter emanating from parents of older children, I would argue that it is culturally possible to have a home where people aren’t glued to their phones – so long as there are other more healthy activities in progress that they can join in with.
2. Maintain my own online presence
At the moment, I’m on Facebook and Twitter, but I’m not on Snapchat and I barely look at Instagram.
However, you can be jolly sure that will change as and when Freddie wants an account on those platforms, and any others that pop up in the interim period. While I have no intention of being my son’s online stalker (or embarrassing “liker” and commenter), being his “friend” on these networks will be a proviso for him using them.
3. Educate on the dangers
There’s no getting away from some of the harsh realities of the online world; People DO encounter sexual predators; Children DO meet online “friends” in real life, and teenagers DO get involved in “sexting” and sending nude photos.
My son will never be in any doubt that I know all this stuff goes on. And however red-faced it might make him in the future, this WILL be something that’s talked about in our home. My hope is that maintaining open dialogue will mean that he won’t be scared to talk about these things when they feature in his life – and statistically speaking they probably will.
4. Demonstrate what technology can really do
Many children nowadays are a dab hand with a selfie stick and a photo filter, but seem to remain blissfully unaware of what computers can actually do.
By engaging with my son and spending time with him on the computer, I want to ensure he learns about what he can do with graphics, how he can code, and how he can make incredible music. (Music which, in my day, would have required sound studios and synthesisers). Whatever he decides he’s interested in, the internet can educate him on it and provide him with opportunities – and I mean opportunities beyond chatting to mates whilst wearing superimposed bunny ears.
5. Let him join in
By means of watering down my previous statement, I should emphasise that I always intend to let my boy enjoy the world of technology. By the time he becomes obsessed with social media, I imagine we’ll be way beyond Snapchat and Facebook, and onto a fad none of us have even heard of yet.
But regardless of what it is (and how daft the “grown-ups” will no doubt think it is) – I will make sure he’s able to join in. And I will make sure I’m educated enough on whatever it is to keep him as safe as possible while he uses it.
As a parent, there’s little more I can do beyond that.
Ben Taylor is a serial-solopreneur, writer and IT expert. One of his specialist areas is internet security – something he’s written about here. Ben is a proud dad to a three-year-old son, with another on the way imminently!