Unlike almost every other age group, the health of adolescents and children hasn't improved in recent decades. There are several dangers to children, which are of far greater significance than cyber-safety.
- Children are still getting sunburnt regularly, with the attendant risk of skin cancer.
- Children are becoming obese at a terrifying rate, and not getting enough exercise. This has short-term and long-term health implications.
- Children can't cross roads safely. Particularly children under 10, who are cognitively challenged:
- They expect moving objects to change shape. A horse running changes shape. A soccer ball spins. Cars don't, so they have a cognitive block that makes it harder for them to perceive that the car is moving.
- Audio-location (identifying where a sound comes from) doesn't really come together until after age 10. Between not being able to hear or see that a car is moving, there aren't many ways you can sense the danger of a distant car.
- Very young children assume that if they can see the driver, the driver can see them.
- Children are spending less time engaging with their peers face-to-face, so they are less able to understand subtle facial expressions. This makes them less able to build and maintain friendships. In addition, they are talking to adults less.
Professor Cross mentioned the well-known decline in Facebook usage among young teens. Facebook is how middle-aged women reconnect with their school peers now. Instead, children are using Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and Reddit. She spoke about much else, but as someone who can talk for hours about the impact of computing on society, this was something that grabbed my attention. The "adult" social media platforms (such as LinkedIn, Quora and Facebook) are very strong on mapping user accounts to individuals. These are sites where you build reputation and invest time and effort to show your significance to your peers. These are not the sites that young teens are involved in. Instead they are flocking to sites where the culture is that the matching of your username to a real person is a matter of some shame, embarrassment or at least disaster.
There are throwaway accounts on Facebook, but on reddit (for example) there are cultural norms about using them.
- Creating a throwaway to gripe about your school teacher is the safest thing to do; don't use your normal account.
- Don't create a throwaway to vote up your post, though, that's inappropriate; use your normal account instead.
- Similarly to adults on ebay, don't get too attached to your reputation on any of these sites because you might need to discard it quickly.
- Have you thought up a couple of different usernames? Are they in use by anyone else in the world? Are these usernames so different that no-one could guess that they belong to the same person?
- For each username, what impression do you want it to portray? Is this the account you use for comedy? Or is this the account you will use for your deep, artistic content? Do you have an account you could use safely if you were confessing something bad you had done?
- Which accounts will you let your friends know are yours, and which ones are you going to keep secret?
- Do you know how to make a throwaway account? Do you know what a throwaway account is, and why it might be useful?
- When will you use a throwaway?
- On which sites and with which accounts will you put real information?
- Is it appropriate to lie to create an account?
- If you had to abandon this account, or if the account was taken over by someone maliciously, would you lose anything you cared about?
But that's OK. As a parent, it's perfectly OK to fob off some of this kind of "geek" conversation to other more qualified adults. It's important for children to have relationships with adults. Boys in particular are very reluctant to talk their parents or teachers about any problems they have. Is there a cousin or family friend that spends too much time on the internet, who you would trust to explain this sort of thing to your children? Make the effort to make this conversation happen with them then. Conversely, if you are a child reading this post, and you don't really have an answer to the questions on the laundry list, it would be well worthwhile talking to someone about this. Perhaps your parents, perhaps a teacher, or someone else that your parents trust.
Here are the three books I can find on Amazon that she has written:
- Cyberbullying in the Global Playground: Research from International Perspectives
- Friendly Schools Plus Evidence for Practice: Whole-school Strategies to Enhance Students' Social Skills and Reduce Bullying in Schools
- Friendly Schools Plus Teacher Resource: Early Childhood (4-6 Years)
Greg Baker is an author, computer geek, inventor, consultant, and parent. He is not particularly good at any of these. (firstname.lastname@example.org)