I was walking passed a neighbor’s house yesterday and I could hear lots of noise and laughter coming from his garage. It sounded like a party and it was nice to hear the sounds of laughter and fun! I spoke to my neighbor today and asked how the party had gone and discovered that there was no-one there just his teenage son, some speakers and a few online games. It was kind of a party but an online one, the friends were real but connected via Skype and the game they played. It is a startling example of how much our children’s lives are online as opposed to our own.
It’s the same with my eldest son, he’s constantly talking and chatting with his friends, yet this is mostly online. Whereas we’d meet up more or use the telephone, our children network on smart phones, Skype, Xbox live and Facebook. There are some huge benefits to this of course, in my situation my son is still very close to a cousin who emigrated three years ago – in my era we’d have probably drifted apart. Distance now is very much irrelevant, location doesn’t matter much when you chat via Skype or Facebook and socialise using online games on a Wide Area network.
Many in education are of course worried about the social skills and communication problems that this might hold for them. The internet is certainly monpolising many aspects of young people’s lives – it’s the first call for entertainment on so many levels. Thirty years ago our parents used to restrict our TV watching, my children don’t really watch that much. They are of course able to watch BBC Iplayer abroad now using proxy servers – watch this and a multi-device subscription to Netflix is always popular – again on computers. There are other dangers though, simple ones like making friends and relationships online.
When you think about it there are many problems with making new friends online. One of the most obvious particularly with children is that of validation – how do you know who you are talking to? In real life of course it’s easy, we can see the person in front of us and children can verify that they’re conversing with someone of their own age. But online there are no clues and we are basically reliant on conversation and what the other person tells us. It’s why young people should be careful when communicating online with people they don’t know. They should be cautious with unknown people, and be especially careful with private and personal information. Most internet safety experts advise divulging as little information as possible about your personal details. However sites like Facebook encourage people to use real names and pictures which is of course fine if you play by the rules.
There’s little to be gained from stopping your children spending time socialising online, it’s going to happen anyway at some point. However we can make children aware of some of the problems and ensure they are aware of the dangers.