This is a good question to ask, and in most subjects, the answer is of course trusted adults.
But there are some areas where the answer is always children. Like how to do a kickflip on a skateboard or complete 16 perfect bottle flips in a row.
Yes, children often know far more about these things than trusted adults. And it’s right for it to be this way – we aren’t the masters of knowledge and neither should we pretend to be. Sometimes we just have to accept that the children do indeed know more than we do.
But is this the case in what children do whilst they’re online?
Children lead on trends
Keeping up with children with current trends has always been hard. Physical trends like ‘dabbing’ or ‘flossing’ are easy to see and so although you are aware of them, you just don’t understand why they would want to do them!
With trends online, it’s not as easy to see and so the gap between what the trusted adults knows and what children know widens.
They are immersed in technology in a way that previous generations haven’t been before. They intrinsically know many things that some adults try to learn, but never really seem to grasp completely no matter how hard they try.
The first thing to understand is that in terms of what our children are accessing online - you can never truly be on top of the game. You’d be chasing your own tail trying to constantly keep up with the new craze, app or game and by the time you have mastered one, the next one would be there to take its place.
Your hard-earned knowledge would be outdated within weeks if not days. And trying to be ‘down with the kids’ all the time will probably only highlight to children how little you do actually know and they will then start to cast doubt on how well you know other things – about your advice on the mystery user 72849 for example.
In a race of who knows more about what children are accessing online, it feels like we, as trusted adults, are left at the starting blocks. Children certainly win this round and, with such a wide gap, it almost feels easier all round to give up entirely.
But all is not lost.
With online safety, it needs to be about collaboration. Yes, it might be that the children know how to use the online technologies better than the adults, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to be at least aware of what they are using.
Awareness over mastery
Yes, you might not be able to create a game on Roblox, however it is important to be aware of the online content that your children are accessing so then you can find out about the dangers.
This tends to be the point when we type into a search engine something along the lines of ‘Is TikTok safe for children to use?’ Last time I tried that one, it returned 289,000,000 results. How do you know which one of those will give you the answer that you are looking for?
What you really need to know is what are the dangers of allowing our children to use this app or game – not the essential tips for surviving the action in Fortnite Battle Royale.
Luckily, adults are resourceful and over time you start to develop a bank of go to sites that you know are up to date and are giving an unbiased view. National Online Safety [INSERT LINK] have an amazing collection of parental guides perfect for this.
Children also tend to know some of the risks involved in what they are doing because they are immersed in it however adults have plenty of resources to turn to for advice. Where risks are concerned, both adults and children are on an equal footing.
Adults know the danger signs
As adults, we know the dangers of the world – both real and online – in a way that children can’t quite understand yet. Our maturity and experience has led us to know not to trust everyone in the world and believe what they say; however, it takes a long time to come to this conclusion.
Children haven’t yet reached this level of maturity and naturally want to trust and see the best in people, be liked and make friends. Whilst the thought of a stranger liking and saving our Instagram photos would fill an adult with dread, some children would love this as they would naively simply see this as someone liking their photos. They don’t yet understand the power information can hold and they would struggle to see what other motivation there might be behind chatting to others online other than simply being friendly.
The link between risks online and how these can be the same or lead to risks in the real world is glaringly obvious to adults and far exceeds children’s awareness. Trusted adults are by far the experts in this area.
Adults know… their children
Ultimately, you are the experts on your own children.
You will pick up on signs that things aren’t quite right possibly before the child even realises it themselves. It’s like an extra sense that makes you ask the question – are you alright? It might be the slight hesitancy to talk about things. The reluctance to have technology in communal spaces in your house or the way they snatch up their phone as soon as a notification arrives.
Maybe they’ve become disinterested in things they enjoyed previously: the child who would only ever leave the Xbox to eat, now doesn’t want anything to do with it. The change in behaviour could be so subtle that you can’t put your finger on it, but you get an uneasy sense that something is just not quite right.
Again, because you know your children, you know the best approach. Every child is different and will respond to different strategies.
Do you ask them outright? Remind them that they won’t get into any trouble if they want to share something? Remind them that if they feel like they can’t talk to you about it then there are other trusted adults that they can go to?
Or do you simply remind them about the Childline number and advise them that once they have shared their problem, then we can start to solve it. Again, you, as the trusted adult know best here.
So, who wins?
To answer to the original question, it changes depending on what it is that you are talking about. It is perhaps the wrong question to ask.
Maybe it should be which is more important - that you can do the renegade on TikTok or that you know potential risks and your child well enough to know when something is wrong and know how to provide support?
Remember that our ultimate goal as trusted adults isn’t to know more about how to use the technology, it is to know more about how to keep our children safe.
Heather Cardwell is a practicing Online Safety Lead and senior school leader. She has successfully developed and implemented online safety practice in schools, delivered training to school staff and parents and has over 10 years’ experience teaching children in both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2.
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