Digital Maturity – Are We Headed In the Right Direction?

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Tween-on-laptop-in-bedroomThis past week I was invited to AVG’s Digital Maturity event in San Francisco. I sat at the table with about a dozen or so child advocates and online safety experts. We discussed a number of topics related to children online, as well as the current level of parental involvement and education in the US and globally. Needless to say, the discussion quickly grew interesting as everyone from software experts to mommy bloggers had something to contribute.

AVG’s Tony Anscombe defined Digital Maturity as the point when children (under 13) are presented with/forced to make adult decisions on the Internet, more specifically social networking sites. Based on their survey among parents in the US, AVG concluded that age 11 is when most children will be put in these adult situations as 53% of parents with 11 year olds said their child is part of a mainstream, adult-intended social network, which not only encourages lying and violating the social network’s Terms of Use, but puts the safety and privacy of their child at risk. Tying it back to the idea of Digital Maturity, however, the concern lies in our children’s vulnerability in making premature decisions when they encounter adult situations. Take the computer away, and how often is it that an average 11-year old has to make an adult decision?

In the example of cyberbullying, children who attempt to take matters into their own hands can easily exacerbate the situation by giving the bully exactly what they want: attention. That being said, it’s important to educate children and their parents on the proper ways to go about dealing with the bully, how to record the bullying and who to contact should the bullying get out of hand.

The Digital Maturity segment of AVG’s research focuses on the 10-13 year old crowd and their parents, which they surveyed globally and nationally. Globally, with the exception of Japan and New Zealand, they found that, on average, 50% of 10-13 year olds have their own personal computer. In the US, this goes up to 63%. In addition, 41% of US 10-13 year olds use their computer in the privacy of their own bedroom.

One of the main pieces of advice I always give parents when it comes to general online safety is moderation of their child’s online time. Moderation can be anything from setting rules on the amount of time they spend online on any given day, to the physical location of the computer itself. Giving them a laptop or PC in their own room without parental monitoring tools, such as BSecure or Eye Guardian, makes them vulnerable to a number of safety and privacy issues, i.e. webcam chat sites, online predators and cyberbullying.

Though a lot of the research led to hopeful statistics, like the fact that, in the US, 72% of parents say they have accessed their child’s computer to see what they are doing online, as well as 78% who say they know their kid’s social media passwords, there is still a huge concern when it comes to mobile Internet access and online gaming.

AVG found that 51% of 10 year olds and 65% of 13 year olds access their social media profiles from their cell phones. Considering the fact that mobile Internet is somewhat “uncharted territory” for parents, there needs to be an educational focus on the resources and tools available to families. From my experience, most parents aren’t even aware of the fact that their cell phone provider offers parental control solutions, or the fact that there are software solutions to help them monitor/restrict their child’s mobile activity. This is unfortunate and very concerning, and with 60% of our children (not even teens) accessing Internet content and adult-intended social networks like Facebook from their phone, it’s unacceptable.

In addition, the survey found that 92% of US 10-13 year olds use games consoles, and not necessarily on a moderated basis. 34% of 13 year olds spend more than an hour a day gaming, while 13% spend more than 11 hours a week on their consoles.

Online gaming consoles are just like a computer in the sense that your child can easily interact with a complete stranger. Private messaging and private chat capabilities are there, and anonymous users are there, essentially mimicking all the concerns that exist on the Internet: cyberbullying, online predation, etc. However, the parental control solutions are there, too. Xbox Live and the Wii offer a slew of family settings that parents need only to take advantage of. The problem is, like with mobile security, most parents aren’t even aware that these tools exist.

I believe AVG did a fantastic job of highlighting some key statistics and concerns about children’s online safety. As parents, educators and advocates, we still have a lot of work to do. Education is key, but in order to effectively educate, we need to generate awareness. One of the main points that was brought up during our discussion on Monday was the idea that we’re not getting the message of “online safety” across to the right people. The parents and children who are suffering more from the lack of education are the same parents and children who don’t have the time or resources to use the tools available to them.

I invite all of you who are reading this to share this article, or refer your friends who have kids using any digital device to subscribe to the YoursphereForParents email subscription service. It’s free, and safety tips will be sent automatically to your inbox. Together, we can bridge the knowledge gap and most importantly provide solutions for families.

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    The gaming software Innogames is against responsible parenthood.
    Recently, I have been banned from playing an on-line game because I monitor my kid’s use of the internet.
    Go figure…
    In this day and age, when we constantly hear how cybercrime is propagating right before our fingertips, it is imperative for a parent to monitor what their children do on the internet. However, Innogames’ business practices are geared towards penalizing proper parent supervision.
    My two youngest kids and I play an online game called Grepolis, created by Innogames. I started the accounts for them and I monitor their email messages. I have also sent from my children accounts emails to people writing to them to let them know that the account was being monitored by a responsible adult.
    My youngest is an 11 year old girl with a minor learning disability. Her teachers have suggested that we do fun activities that involve learning to follow sequential steps. As she was interested on the game, I thought that it was going to be a positive experience for her to play this game. Throughout the months playing, she was in need of assistance during the game. As any good parent would do, I offered my help. However, it seems that it is against Innogames rules for a father to help his little girl.
    As a result of my monitoring activities and my help to my daughter, I was banned from playing the game for a brief period of time. However, that ban was turned into a permanent one after talking to a Senior Moderator named “Lord Asriel,” whose robotic responses appeared to be from a tyrannical bureaucrat. I just tried to explained in a very polite and restrained manner, that it was imperative for me to monitor my kids use of the internet and to help them when they need or ask for my help. I have the correspondence exchanged with him to prove this point.
    In summary, Innogames’ rules are against parents monitoring their children’s account and even against parents assisting their children when the kids ask for help in some game related activity.
    What gives Innogames the right to act with such impunity, carelessness for Internet safely, and the complete disregard for the basic parent/child relationship?

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