By Wendy Andersen
THANKS to Spain’s education programme to encourage computer literacy, all children between 10 and 15 currently have a school laptop at home – and these little devices are rarely out of their clutches.
I am fascinated by how many hours my kids will spend distorting photos, watching cats fall over on YouTube, and of course, chatting.
My daughter likes to watch TV while online so that she and her mates can comment about the show they are not really watching.
However, there is also a tendency for kids to lie about their age in order to join all the social networking sites: Facebook, Tuenti, Google+ being the most popular here.
In reality they should be 16 to sign up. But my 11-year-old has 80 friends, all from her primary school.
Since none of them have repeated their school year that many times, the age-safety feature clearly is not working.
If your bilingual kids are outstripping you in computer literacy as well as Spanish literacy, you face a double whammy of how to monitor your kids’ activities online.
At the most basic level, parents can install filters directly on the laptop. These are limits you can set which will restrict which websites the computer will be able to access.
If you don’t know how to do this, meet with the class teacher and they can set the filters for you.
Blocking access to the obviously-bad sites is easy. Much harder is deciding where the line is between what’s safe and what’s not, and depending on your child’s age, what’s monitoring and what’s snooping.
There’s really only one way to approach this. Talk to your kids about what they’re doing online. Show an interest, get involved, let them teach you about the internet and the Linux operating system the laptops use. Get familiar with how everything works.
By playing some of the online games with your kids – however badly you do – you will at least be in a position to decide if the games are too violent.
Stickicide a free online game that involves finding inventive ways to kill a cartoon stick figure, presented a whole philosophical parental debate for me: it is violent, but in a really naïve, funny way. Is it good or bad? You can only decide by playing the game yourself.
Another site for young girls seemed innocent enough, with information on horses, famous singers and make-up. But it also had games that revolved around kissing boys, with links to more dubious sites. You only know by going online with your kids.
Once you’ve shown an interest, you can also introduce some alternatives. Find sites that are fun and educational to balance out the rubbish.
If they only hear about sites by Googling ‘free games’ and word of mouth in class, they will be playing mind-numbing games all day and missing out on all that CBBC, the National Wildlife Trust or the British Science Museum have to offer.
As their computer skills grow, you need to make sure yours do too. If you decide to restrict their access for whatever reason, keep in mind that they have multiple access points to the internet – not just the laptop, but through video game players, TVs, mobile phones, and even some cameras.
If you are worried about the content they’re viewing but you have no idea how half the devices work, you can set blanket controls for your entire home network.
Check with your internet provider if you don’t know how to install these filters.
Finally, talk to your kids about safety issues.
Things that they think are OK to say to their friends can be read by others. They have to avoid saying things like: “We’re going to visit Grandma in London this weekend” because the whole world will know your house will be empty.
They should never give information about where they live, or their telephone numbers. They should not ‘friend’ people or chat with anyone they don’t know.
Remind them how easy it is easy for people to lie online about their age – for example, saying they were 16 to get a FB account…
OPX Top Ten Kids Sites
Features fun projects that use easily-available, inexpensive materials, and don’t require special skills, tools materials or facilities.
Offers detailed answers to many science questions and they can read current news articles related to science, get ideas on school projects, and take advantage of unit conversion tables.
Great site for nature and exploring the world and its geography.
This Disney-owned site is not the most educational one on the web, but it is fun, friendly, and safe. You basically create a penguin alter ego and build an online universe around it and chat with other penguins in a safe environment.
One of the best educational maths site for kids. It’s excellent in the way it gives the parent feedback and is simple and easy to use.
Do you know why earthquakes happen? How CD burners work? What the sun is made of? These questions, and many others related to computers/electronics, automobiles, science, entertainment, and people, are all answered at this award-winning website.
Largely entertainment-based, but does have some interesting educational stuff thrown in for good measure. Check out the Weird Science section to find fun experiments.
The brainchild of 10-year-old Genna, this website hosts a ‘collaborative story’ where visitors’ suggestions are used to write stories. Kids can also post stories, book reviews, and comments on children’s writings.
Increasingly, or rather exclusively, kids these days use the net for doing their research. It’s important to explain to them that the internet is like a big open book, in which anyone can write. Some people are great thinkers, some great time wasters, some are just plain stupid. These two sites will help them in their research to sort the drivel from the good stuff.
This online ‘reference desk’ can help to check facts found find online. It’s a one-click springboard to many of the web’s top dictionaries, encyclopedias, calculators, atlases, news headlines and search engines.
For younger students who are not quite ready to navigate Ref Desk, this site features a layout that is designed for easy fact-finding and includes timelines and an almanac, atlas, dictionary, and encyclopedia, as well as a ‘Homework Center’. Students can also search by visually identified topics or by typing in keywords. Check out fun features such as Biographies, the Geography Hall of Fame, and the Tallest Buildings Slideshow.