How you use technology, impacts on how children use technology

By Daniel Donahoo in Blogs

We are all cyber buddies.

Of course, formal programs that support older children to strengthen their own digital skills and understand their responsibilities when engaging with technology by helping younger children to do the same is what Cyber Buddy Day is all about. But, we all have a responsibility to model good technology behaviours to each other, especially to the youngest children in our lives.

Child development experts tell us that children learn and develop many of their behaviours and traits from observing adults and older children’s behaviours. It is one of the main ways they learn. Young children, especially those under the age of eight, are constantly trying to make sense of their world and what is expected of them – and they do that more by watching what we do than listening to what we say.

The world has changed. Technology is a big part of that. So, the old mantra of “do as I say, not as I do” is now of no value to children in the 21st century. Yet, when it comes to technology, to screentime and the way people behave and act online – that is exactly the message we are sending to young children.

In our discussions about cyber safety and the appropriate use of technology we are still at the early days of taking a broader community approach. It is still easier for us to lay the blame for poor behaviours around technology on young children or developing teenagers – rather than reflecting on the way we all use technology and behave online. Just look at the comments threads on your favourite news site, or consider the heated discussions you see on social media, or check out the type of images adults are posting on their Facebook or Instagram. The culture of bullying, of sexualisation, of inappropriate comments and behaviour online is not one of children’s making. It is one that evolves out of how we all behave, and it is the responsibility of adults in our community to model better behaviours if they are really serious about the cybersafety of young children.

The Cyber Buddy Program is one way that older children are being supported to understand this responsibility, and model it to younger children.

However, this also needs to start in the home. It means that parents need to follow the same type of rules around technology as they expect from their children – especially in the interests of the youngest members of the family.

You see we know from our research into young children that early intervention around any aspect a child’s development is of benefit to them, and consequently the community in later years. Our concerns about how teenagers use technology or the offensive and abusive comments we see on social media could be best addressed by talking, modelling and supporting children aged 3-6 years about how they should use technology. This doesn’t mean having social media accounts for these children, it means setting standards like: we don’t use phones at the dinner table or have technology in our bedrooms. Or when children start to write and use a blog in Prep or Grade 1 we should teach them: if you can’t make a positive or constructive comment, don’t make a comment at all.

In the interests of supporting young children to become confident, capable, respectful users of technology as they grow and develop we need to move to a more nuanced and sophisticated idea of how we help children to use technology in ways that support their learning and development. We need to get beyond worrying about screentime and focus on how we foster good online behaviours from pre-schoolers up. This means finding ways to change what screen time looks like, to recognise that watching TV is different to playing on an app with mum and dad and developing programs appropriate to children’s age and stage of development – like Cyber Buddies.

eSmart week is all about how we manage this changing world together – as a community. We owe it to young children to work together to show them how technology can be a positive and beneficial influence on our lives. Let’s remove the fear mongering, and start getting proactive and supporting even the youngest members of our society to be confident and respectful citizens in all aspects of the digital and non-digital lives.

Five Tips for Cyber Families

  • No technology in bedrooms (for parents and children)
  • Set up technology free times or days for the whole family and focus on engaging with each other
  • Share your technology. Parents and children should play games and apps together. Make technology a social and shared space.
  • Negotiate screen time with your children. Even young children – talk about not just how long, but what type of activity a child will be doing while engaging with TV, phone, tablet or computer.
  • Parents must model the behaviours they want their children to have. Don’t stare at your phone all day in the presence of your child.

About Daniel Donahoo

Daniel Donahoo is a researcher, writer and producer of digital content and experiences for children and young people. He is the Learning Producer at Deeper Richer and author of Idolising Children and co-author of Adproofing Your Kids.

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