2017 has arrived and, as always in school, we have a second opportunity to renew and refresh body, mind and soul. The Christmas holiday is always a busy one for families – usually enjoyable but rarely restful. However we have now passed the shortest day and we will soon race towards the new green shoots of Spring. The ebb and flow of the school year, the school term and the school day are embedded within our own culture and timetable. Staff and students (and indeed parents) respond to the structure of the day and it is good to be back into a routine and the swing of things.
Making New Year’s resolutions can be a powerful way of identifying changes we want to see and motivating us to achieve them. In school I have encouraged students to value and prioritise carefully; to invest in people and relationships; to focus upon their future; to be positive; to seize new opportunities and to be the change they want to see. Our world is fast paced and ever changing so it is important to remember what matters most.
Ten years ago today Steve Jobs launched the revolutionary ground breaking iPhone; it transformed our day to day access to the internet; to music, and keeping in contact with one another. There is no doubt it was a technology watershed moment. Last week saw the publication of the report from the Children’s Commissioner, ‘Growing Up Digital.’ So it seems timely to consider the importance of technology, its role in our lives, our online awareness and perhaps to highlight some New Year Digital resolutions too.
The report (https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/publications/growing-digital) is an extensive review of the power of the internet in the context of children. Students in our schools are digital natives; their world has always been shaped by a screen and a www. link; mobile phones; swiping not pressing; downloading and surfing (without the waves); Google instead of dictionaries; social media for links with friends; online photos have replaced albums and updating a profile is as easy as 1,2, 3 click.
‘The internet is an extraordinary force for good but it is not designed with children in mind.’ This is the opening line from The Growing Up Digital Task Force and it is our responsibility as educators to prepare, support and keep our students safe. This will always be more effective in partnership with parents and that is why, at Westholme, we shared the expertise of the Engage Team last term and regularly send out online safety bulletins to families. I would encourage parents to read the report and not simply reflect on the aspects that may surprise or alarm, but to embrace the positive messages and rest assured that we are not leaving ‘children to fend for themselves.’
At the start of 2017 here are some digital New Year Resolutions that may be helpful:
• Show your child how use technology safely
Using social media or games on the Xbox for example, do they know how to keep privacy settings up to date? Which apps are the highest risk when it comes to security and misuse? What does a bad digital footprint look like and what are the pitfalls? Learning about the risks of posting offensive or careless comments or images online is crucial; undoubtedly such actions will have greater ramifications in the future as the legal world of litigation catches up with the digital interface.
We speak about online safety all the time in school, it is embedded in so many aspects of our directed and hidden curriculum though PSHE, form time, computing/IT studies and focus days. We want young people to know how to keep themselves safe from strangers. We emphasise the right ways to get help if they are worried about something or are aware of cyber bullying. Make sure you know these answers too.
• Keep up to date and know what your child is doing online
This may seem an impossible task as the next app or innovation arrives before you have the chance to become familiar with the last; consider the Pokémon craze of last year as an example of how quickly such digital phenomena can appear and spread. Try to show an interest (even if you are a digital dinosaur) and if they do not want to tell you, there are a wealth of superb websites that advise, support and help parents to understand the technology that is embedded in the lives of children and young people. Constant communication I believe is central to this and that includes talking to your child about their online lives.
• Adopt the same approach to developing resilience, independence and security in your children as you would in all other areas of their life
Technology is here to stay and will only grow stronger. Where indeed would most of us be now without our mobiles, tablets, Wi-Fi and computers? Therefore it is both essential and pragmatic to embrace all the positive benefits of the digital age and ensure that you help prepare your child accordingly. They need the tools, skills, understanding and experience to navigate their way safely through the digital maze. There may be no digital driving test to pass but that does not make the essential lessons any less important. Most parents recognise this and provide a clear framework of support, communication and independence within which they can explore safely and successfully.
• Plan and encourage digital technology detox times (parents too!)
This is surely a good resolution for all families. This does not mean the usual rationing time spent on games or tablets, or making sure technology is not in bedrooms – this means a time out with no phones or technological activity. Ideally this should always happen at mealtimes but try having a regular detox each day (especially at the weekends) and there will be benefits for family conversation, your thumb, eyesight and probably your sleep too! There is robust scientific evidence about the impact of the effects of LED backlit screens and their impact on brain activity in the frontal cortex; these have shown that even our small electronic devices emit sufficient light to miscue the brain and promote wakefulness. Some guidelines show this can affect our sleep patterns up to two hours before we go to bed. As adults we are subject to these influences and our children are particularly susceptible.
The digital future is bright in so many ways; of course the power of the internet can be used negatively and by misguided or corrupt individuals or groups. However this is no different than any abuse of power through politics, the media, religion, society or our relationships. Our role and undertaking is to ensure that young people are equipped with the knowledge, skills and judgement to make the most of the global digital world in which they are immersed – we owe it to them and we owe it to ourselves too.
Lynne M Horner
Follow me on Twitter – @LynneMHorner