Guest blogger: Sherif Issa
Sherif Issa is the Head of Health and Environment, at the Egyptian Company for Mobile Services, Mobinil, where he ensures regulatory compliance of mobile networks and manages several sustainable development projects. His special interests and experience include how mobile applications can be used to improve the lives of people in the Third World, Internet safety and protecting children from harmful online content, as well as a range of environmental issues and ‘Green ICT’.
I liked Orange Group’s description of our children being born under a digital star and that soon they’ll be masters of the web. A problem, however, persists, which is children navigating uncharted, and dangerous areas in the cyber world. The main challenge for parents and guardians is children don’t always trust us as their filter. The generation gap makes our advice outdated, unrealistic or at best not ‘hip’. Children always listen to peers rather than us when it comes to mobile and Internet.
[Editors note: Take a look at the latest FOSI/Pew Research for more on the ‘Online Generation Gap’.]
A recent international survey by the GSM Association shows 60% of youth aged 17 and 18 turning to friends for advice. Only 20% asked their parents, and none asked their teachers! I have 2 teens in my home, 2 laptops, 1 desktop and recently had to bow to status symbol pressures and buy a tablet. I knew I’d be in trouble if I didn’t come up with online controls – and fast!
First thing I realized is that ‘control’ and ‘friendly’ or ‘practical’ do not always go well together, in fact, they are opposites: there’s no such thing as friendly control. Secondly, no matter how sophisticated the filtering software I buy, there’s always a way around it. There are sites that show how to crack software, cheat games, bypass filters, fake IP addresses and everything else that’s plain wrong, albeit exciting.
The great ‘control’ solution I wanted was apparently not a technical, but a human, ‘get to know your children better, let’s be transparent’ solution. A technical solution was necessary but far from complete. I started by establishing basic, intuitive rules and watched them develop as we went along. Rules were interactive, meaning that I too, had guidelines and targets:
Tablets, laptops and smart-phones don’t go to bed
Bedrooms are for sleeping or maybe reading a book – the old fashioned kind made of paper.
Bridge the digital gap
I always thought of the digital gap as the difference between rich and poor, therefore ‘bridging the gap’ was basically to raise someone’s level of ICT knowledge by providing training and equipment. That’s not all, however, the ‘digital gap’ is also the difference between old and young: often people who are living in the same home but with different online activities and habits.
So, here I was, an addict of the New York Times, National Geographic and model train web logs, who had to open an account at Tumblr, follow Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus and chased my boy to get to know the games he admired so much and see why. I agree: they were infatuating. Now I can’t think of a day passing without playing 20 minutes of Angry Birds.
Limits on location and duration of use
Use devices in a common area. This way, you can see what your children are doing. Being in the open by itself deters users from going into ‘no-go’ land. I think that 2 hours on weekdays and 3 – 4 hours on weekends is fair. When I say “use”, I refer to all portable devices, including wireless game consoles.
Be a pal
Lack of awareness of our children’s digital habits is today’s version of neglect. Assuming they’ll do the right thing by themselves is asking too much and plain naïve. The Internet is a great place to learn and benefit but, like any technology, there is a dark and dangerous side. Be a friend to your children, share experiences and stories, explain online dangers like anonymous friendship requests, chain messages, spamming and mails calling for help.
Your children may still think of you as a dinosaur, but one that’s fun to be with.
[Editor’s note: For more information on how to start a conversation with your kids about online safety, take a look at the parents section of A Platform for Good: http://www.aplatformforgood.org/parents]