Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tech-Smart Parents and Preschoolers

   This past weekend I had the opportunity to do something fun and different!

   I've been lecturing on Internet Safety and Awareness to all kinds of groups for about 15 years.  I've met with parents and professionals at conferences, businesses, churches, school district parent fairs and have even provided training to law enforcement personnel.  I enjoy doing this and always learn something new.

   After presenting at a school district parent fair last fall, I was invited to present at a local Young Children and Technology conference, specifically covering technology for the preschool and younger set!  Since most of my material is targeted for parents of preteens, teens and older, I knew I had some work to do!

   As I dove into the research, I found that there are similar categories of issues, but clearly preschoolers and toddlers use technology different than teens.

   If you're interested, my slides are posted here.  My handouts are posted here.

   The conference was held at a newer school, built specifically for K and pre-K classes.  What a great facility!  Every classroom had multiple computers and a smart screen (positioned low for kids' viewing angles).  There was plenty of "exploring" space.  It just looked like a fun place to be.

   While there are many differences in the online issues to be faced by teens and preschoolers, I think it's important for parents to learn about what's in store for them as the child gets older.  The simple fact is that things "get younger all the time".  By that I mean that as technology gets more mainstream, it is adopted by younger users.  Take, for example, cell phones.  Ten years ago, cell phone use was growing in high schools and they were nonexistent in elementary schools.  Now it would be rare to find a high-schooler without a smart phone (perhaps you're one of the "bad parents" that won't get one for your son or daughter :-), and cell phone use is growing with the elementary school set.

   We talked about digital natives and digital immigrants.  Digital natives are people who grew up with technology and can't remember a time without it.  Digital immigrants are those who came to tech later in life and are perhaps struggling with the concepts.  All kids these days are digital natives.  Most parents are digital immigrants.  However, we've reached a time when some of the natives are old enough to have kids of their own.
   There's also the idea of a "digital birth", or the age at which one's information ends up online.  For some, their digital birth occurs before their human birth due to online sonogram pictures or pregnancy-blogging.

   While our youngest kids face some of the same dangers as teens (like accidental surfing to unintended sites/content, online solicitation, unwanted contact from strangers), I think the the 2 biggest online dangers for preschoolers are:
  1. privacy issues - this one is interesting because, in most cases, it's not the kids giving away private information, but their parents posting too much information about the child!  Of course, parents can post what they feel is appropriate, but I caution parents to be aware and think before posting.
  2. and this may be the biggest danger...  too much screen time!  Preschoolers are built to run around and "bounce off the walls"!  If you've lived with a toddler or preschooler then you know just what I'm talking about.  This is a good thing and important for them developmentally.  TV is a distraction in itself.  But now many households have 5, 10 or more screens scattered around the house.  It's easy to sit and play a game.  But even too much educational content is potentially time taken away from physical activity.  So get up and run around with your kids!  Model appropriate amounts of physical activity.
   We then discussed a few other technology topics including cell phones, geolocation and PC security.  We talked about Brian Krebs' three rules of computer security:
  • If you didn’t go looking for it, don’t install it.
  • If you installed, update it.
  • If you no longer need it, get rid of it!
   (for a safer PC, go to this Krebs webpage and do what it says!)

   You should all check out Brian's blog here.  And, listen to Steve Gibson interview Brian on Security Now! episode 392.

   Our final topic was cyber-bullying.  This is a very important topic so I will devote next week's blog post to it.

   I want to, again, thank the conference organizers for inviting me and the group who attended my talk for some great discussion and questions!

   If you have a preschooler in your home, have you thought about their online safety?  What tips and tricks to you have to help our youngest netizens have a safe online experience?

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