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Guest Post: Is your child’s digital knowledge streets ahead?

Baby Computer


This is  a guest post by Alexandra from Know The Net, an organisation that provides information, tips and advice on how to stay safe online.


Having grown up in a world in which computers are all pervasive, it is little wonder that children often know more about using technology than their parents. To many, it would seem as though kids just “know” how to surf the net, play a games console, operate a mobile phone, and interact with technology in general.

When faced with an apparent digital divide between the generations, it becomes difficult to gauge just how far ahead your offspring are. Nominet recently completed some research to try and define and quantify the difference, by questioning parents and teenagers regarding common internet phrases and how well both parties understood them.

A musical muddle

For the most part, the research suggests that parents are relatively well informed when it comes to the proper use of computers. “Mature” internet concepts, such as downloading songs from iTunes or streaming tracks from Spotify, were generally understood by adults, and therefore viewed as being harmless. The good news is that accessing media through these mediums is perfectly safe.

However, less legitimate activities, such as torrenting songs and videos, were much less understood. According to Nominet’s research, 42% of parents questioned had no idea what torrenting is, nor whether they should be concerned. Just 23% of respondents thought torrenting was an issue. In case you don’t know yourself, torrenting almost always involves downloading copyright-protected content illegally from other Internet users – so, as a parent, you should be worried about the prospect of your children doing this.

Social networking nightmares

With 1 billion users worldwide, there is a high probability that parents and children alike have their own accounts on the social network Facebook. However, different generations often use the network in completely different ways.

Take the concept of “fraping”, for instance. Nearly half of parents (49%) had no idea that updating another person’s Facebook status without their knowledge even had a proper name. However, 58% believed that engaging in such activities would almost certainly get their kids in trouble.

Many of the problems parents face are actually based around language and abbreviations, rather than technical challenges. Netspeak words, such as LMIRL (let’s meet in real life), YOLO (you only live once) and ASL (age, sex, location), were poorly understood by adults.

A common problem

Although the Nominet poll seems to confirm that there is a definite generation gap when it comes to using and understanding technology, parents can take some comfort from the knowledge that they are not alone. In every region of the UK, parents showed similar levels of ignorance when it came to the darker side of the internet.

Parents should also know that even if their kids are streets ahead, the gap in knowledge can be closed. For example, you can often quickly pick up new words and their meaning simply by showing an interest in what your children are doing. Resources such as Knowthenet also provide beginner guides, which cover many topics such as jargon, social networking, and common online scams and pitfalls for children.

Staying aware

A 2010 survey by Nielsen found that 75% of parents add their children as friends on Facebook in order to try and understand what they getting up to. In 41% of households, having a parent as a friend is a prerequisite of being allowed to use the network. Despite teenagers often being less than happy about this arrangement, many experts agree that parents do need to keep an eye on what is happening online.

For parents concerned that the hands-off approach is not working as well as hoped, parental control systems can offer an automated way to keep kids safe online. This could involve blocking ‘adult’ material, preventing torrent apps from being installed or running, and restricting the hours that the computer can be used. Parental control software is particularly useful for keeping pre-teens protected online, and helps create an audit trail of how they have used the computer, so you can ensure all is above aboard.

To further narrow the knowledge gap between you and your children, you might also consider trying to think like them, particularly with regards to circumventing house rules and parental control. A quick Google search for “parental control bypass” throws up hundreds of pages and articles dedicated to getting around rules designed to protect kids. If you can understand for yourself how kids try and bend the rules, you can also prepare for the hard conversations if they do.

Ultimately, your child may well be streets ahead when it comes to digital knowledge, but there is no reason why you cannot at least start to catch them up. The Internet has thousands of free guides available, designed to help you get the best from technology. You could even learn with your kids, having them teach you, making the process more of a family affair and helping you gain greater insights into their abilities.

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