A Parent's Guide to Technology
Being a parent in the 21st century isn’t easy. Once upon a time, there were books, televisions and radios, and that was all we needed.
Not anymore. With podcasting, MP3, blogs and chat rooms keeping kids informed and entertained, it’s easy to feel shut out by new technology. To help you through the maze, we’ve de-coded the most popular terms and concepts, and included some ideas on how you and your child can get involved.
iPod and MP3
A couple of years ago no one had heard of an iPod. These days, it seems like everyone on the bus is wearing earplugs! An iPod or MP3 acts like an enormous, portable CD collection. Songs (or podcasts, see below) can be downloaded from the internet and played at any time and anywhere. If your child has questionable music taste (or if you can’t bear to hear the ‘Bob the Builder’ theme again!), you’ll appreciate the peace of an MP3 for long car trips or queues.
A podcast is like a television or radio broadcast, except via the internet. Thousands of websites offer free podcasts that can be listened to online or downloaded to an iPod or MP3 for later use.
Podcasting is useful if you miss or want to repeat a television or radio program, but can also be used by children themselves to make and send their own podcasts. Some MP3 players have microphones inbuilt, so you can record a podcast direct to file, otherwise look for the ‘mic in’ line, attach your own microphone and off you go!
The name says it all. Instant messaging allows you to chat to someone via the internet in real time via your keyboard. Users have a list of friends who are notified whenever they are online and vice versa, and they can chat individually or in groups. Messaging has even developed its own language, with abbreviations and smiley faces taking the place of spelling and grammar.
It is a great way for children to stay in contact with friends, but make sure your child doesn’t end up spending more time with their friends online than in the real world! It can also be a distraction to homework and online research, so, as with all internet use, keep an eye on their messaging activity.
Blogs (or ‘web logs’) are like online diaries, in which a user (known as a ‘blogger’) provides commentary about their life or a certain topic, for example politics, parenting or entertainment. Blogs are free to set up and nowadays almost everyone seems to have one.
It is often a relief to read that other people are experiencing the same parenting dilemmas, and there really is a blog for every topic and taste – the Supernanny website alone has four parent bloggers!
Children can set up a blog too, and it may improve their writing, typing and editing skills. And all kids love telling stories to an audience!
Forums and Chat rooms
These are online spaces in which internet users can have online conversations on certain topics. For example, parents can sign up to the Supernanny website’s Forum and share stories and advice on raising children.
Unlike a Forum, in which users respond to a conversation ‘thread’, chat room users can speak in real time. Chat rooms have gained a bad reputation in recent years, and should be treated with extreme caution for children. You can never be 100% sure of the identity of other chat room users, so ensure your children safeguard their personal details at all times (see safety tips below).
Online communities have exploded in popularity over the last two years. Users post a profile (which may include text, photos, music or video), and search for people with similar interests. Some of the most popular communities include MySpace, Facebook, WAYN and High5, which are used by individuals and groups to share news and chat. They are a good way to keep in touch, particularly for groups such as school classes or fan clubs. Parents may be interested in sites such as Friends Reunited, which enables users to search for old classmates and reunite with school friends from decades ago!
For all these products, it is vital that your family follow these simple safety guidelines:
- Install internet filtering software and child-friendly search engines – speak to your Internet Service Providor or PC dealer.
- Tell children not to give out their personal details (for example surname, address or school) . Use family email addresses if they want to subscribe to anything online.
- Keep the computer in a communal area of the house, where it's easier to monitor what your children are viewing.
- Tell your child to never open a file from a someone they don’t know, and to let you know if they receive spam or junk emails.
- Surf together! Always monitor your children’s web use, encourage them to introduce you to their online friends and choose sites where you can chat online together.