By Anne Collier
Perfect for making Safer Internet Day 2013 smarter is a new study from Australia about how Net safety works best: open communication and growing competency on the part of parents every bit as much as kids. That’s really boiling down an insightful study from the “Living Labs” at University of Western Sydney that paired up teens and peers’ parents in front of computer screens to draw insights into intergenerational Net-safety practices and strategies in a non-hierarchical teaching and learning set-up. In other words, everyone was learning things from one another – teens, parents, and researchers – while teens were teaching adults about the technology.
“Competency” suggests both literacy and confidence, in our use of the media as well as in each other, and the Living Lab work found evidence that resonates with that of EU Kids Online (see this) and research in the US and Canada. It found that greater literacy in the media and technology that their children use increases child safety by opening up parent-child communication, enhancing mutual trust, and unleashing parents’ ability and willingness to play with the technology and media the way their kids do.
“The most important take-away for the parents, on the technical front, was that working with the young person gave them a safe space to experiment [emphasis theirs] with the technology and learn by discovery,” authors Amanda Third, Damien Spry and Kathryn Locke write, adding that the parents in the Lab “noted how reassuring it was to work with and hear from young people.”
And it’s delightful to hear how mutual that was: “Our young participants were enthusiastic about the opportunity to better understand the factors shaping adults’ approaches to managing their children’s online engagement. One young person described the Living Lab as ‘an enlightening experience’ that had highlighted intergenerational differences and enabled her to better understand what drives parents’ concerns about their children using technology. Young people were also very excited by the fact that they had been able to assist a parent to learn more about why young people use technology, as well as to guide them to increase their technical skills.”
Echoes in other countries
The Living Lab had offered social-media literacy classes in the past, but this time the subject was specifically online-safety tools and practices (as taught by youth, remember, which makes it especially interesting). Among the key findings, which resonate with those in other countries, were:
* “Parents and young people approach the issue of online safety differently,” but…
* “Young people make good use of the online security controls and privacy settings that are available and are particularly savvy about how to stay safe when using social networking sites” (tracks with findings in Canada from MediaSmarts.ca and the US from the Pew Internet Project and Yahoo).
* And Australian teens are also “influenced by their parents when it comes to being smart, safe, respectful and resilient online” (similar to findings in a just-released survey of 24,000+ 7-to-19-year-olds from Safer Internet Centre UK and a 2011 study from Pew Internet in the US.
* And kids can help their parents: “Young people’s expertise is a resource for parents who want to enhance their digital literacy to support their children’s online safety.”
* “Experiential learning models that promote intergenerational conversation can help parents guide their children to engage online in smart, safe, responsible and respectful ways.”
The study really bears out what open and respectful communication can accomplish. “Parent participants in the study reported that it was a great comfort to realise young people don’t slide into a moral vacuum when they go online,” said lead author Amanda Third in the press release. There’s so much more in the report, “Enhancing parents’ knowledge and practice of online safety,” including a “snapshot” of how a parent (Abraham, 55) and a teen (Jane, 19) worked together in the Lab – and how Abraham felt encouraged by his young mentor to do the kind of self-directed, playful learning in which young people are often engaged with digital media.
SIDEBAR (from the report)
Teens’ Top 10 ‘things parents should know about supporting their child’s online safety’ [a list created by young people for parents]
1. “What is ‘said’ online is permanent.
2. “Children will be able to find their way around most security measures if they want to.
3. “Educate yourself about the sites that your children use.
4. “Learn how to report something you think is inappropriate or dangerous on the sites your children use.
5. “Social networking sites, such as Facebook, are not ‘the problem.’ Rather, it’s the way they are used that can be an issue.
6. “Be aware of how advertisers use sites like Facebook.
7. “Understand that most online relationships start offline – if your child is being bullied online, it is probably happening offline too.
8. “Know what to look for in your child’s online relationships, and what makes a positive or negative relationship… but also trust your intuition.
9. “Get your own Facebook account and become ‘friends’ with your child.
10. “Overall, trusting your child is the best prevention for children doing the wrong thing!”