To TikTok, or not to TikTok?
July 31, 2020
There has been a lot of media hype about TikTok recently and this has to lead me to do a little investigating into this popular app. It appears that most of the talk is based around TikTok being a Chinese-owned app and possible data and privacy concerns. This week, it might be TikTok, but next week we will be talking about a different online issue. I think a better conversation for us to have as a community centred on young people and learning is e-safety generally. This is particularly relevant given the centrality of technology and online interactions in a COVID world where relationships and communication are even more reliant on technology.
So where can parents and educators turn for reliable, accessible and helpful information about safe online apps and routines both at home and at School? I find the E-Safety Commissioner’s website and resources very useful and recommend it to parents of children from Prep right up to young adulthood. You can access the website through this link https://www.esafety.gov.au/parents and it is well worth a look.
I often hear parents say that their “kids know more about technology than they do”, this may be true, but young people don’t know more about being safe, about protecting their digital reputation or about making informed choices than parents and this is where the adults in our community play a key role in protecting and guiding young people. The safety guide on the e-safety website outlines the main areas of risk for children and young people online as well as actions that parents and young people can take together to manage these risks. The information about various apps is also most helpful. I simply don’t have the time to know the next “new thing” for young people online, but I can check it out quickly and easily using this reliable resource.
As an educator, when we need to deal with things that have gone wrong with technology between students, it is invariably connected with unsupervised access and very often with smartphones, tablets or computers in bedrooms. All of us as parents like to think that our children are sound asleep and not using their devices at the wrong time in their bedrooms late at night. I have confidently thought this myself as a mum of teenagers – and I had been wrong. A device in the bedroom is like having the window open for visitors, both the ones you know in real life and who are quite safe as well as many who are not safe. They can climb right through the window, into your child’s bedroom, which should be a safe refuge from the social and other pressures of school and the world and these online interactions have the potential to do great harm. We wouldn’t leave access through a bedroom window in the real world and we shouldn’t online either.
At a minimum, we frequently see tired young people at school because they are online instead of asleep. Schools are seeing increased addiction to gaming and online interactions, there is the possibility for social issues or unkind behaviour that has occurred during the school day to transfer to online and overnight interactions and of course there are concerns around predatory behaviour. I cannot say more strongly that the evidence is clear – devices in bedrooms are unhelpful for children, for young people and for adults. We do not need to use our phones for our alarm clocks, we can go and get one from Kmart for a few dollars. Perhaps alarm clocks are more of an issue than TikTok!
So what can we do?
Here are a few tried and true actions that can be taken in every household and will keep not only your own children but also their friends safe online:
- Adults and young people need to have frequent communication about what is going on in the online world and adults are well-advised to check what young people are doing. This is not to say that we don’t trust our children, but rather an awareness of the fact that young people are not equipped in terms of maturity and experience to make wise decisions all the time – this is what adolescence is for, to learn those skills!
- Set up a charging station in high traffic and the visible area of the house and charge everyone’s devices there overnight.
- No devices in bedrooms for primary school children ever. Only use technology in a shared area where mum or dad can walk past at any time and see what is going on.
- If older children have a study area in their bedroom, establish a time for computers to be off and charging at the family charging station.
- Investigate some of the supervision tools that families can use to monitor and limit access to various apps or programmes at certain times – self-discipline needs to be taught, it won’t just happen.
- Do not allow your child to lie about their age and use an app that is designed for older users. This is frequently the case when Schools are dealing with an online issue.
- Expect to be told loudly by your son or daughter that “everyone else has …. App and is allowed to use it in their bedroom”. When this happens feel confident that while they might feel this is the case, it’s just not correct.
- Establish a “no blame approach” if something goes wrong online for your child so they tell you straight away instead of keeping quiet due to concerns about losing access to technology. This one is tricky, I like the concept of if you tell me straight away we can fix it and no technology punishment, but if you hide the issue or intentionally do the wrong thing and try to hide it, there will be a tech time out.
Technology provides so many positive and useful opportunities, we are so blessed to have it so readily accessible to us at this time. I am enjoying having face time sing-a-longs with my 93-year-old Gran and can’t imagine how we could cope with our current situation were it not for online interactions. I have actually become a fan of Zoom meetings! They are quick, efficient and effective. Our online learning platforms and capacity has increased exponentially in 2020 and there have been many benefits. However, we need to commit as a community to make sure that we are doing the little things right to protect the people who are at the centre of every decision here at TIGS, our students.