Parents, you’re doing an amazing job! Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit town, you’ve learnt about safe-distancing, mask-wearing, hand sanitisers, and more. You’ve incorporated new terms like SHN, WFH, and HBL into daily life. With every passing week, you learn to cope with a growing list of unprecedented Circuit Breaker measures. You may even have rushed to get new study furniture and computers as school closures set in.
But before you give yourself that deserved pat on the back, have you given a thought to online safety? With the kids spending more time than ever on the internet, it’s crucial that you’ve got this covered too.
To find out more about how we can safeguard and enhance our children’s online activity during HBL, we googled… no, just kidding. What we did do was chat with Lucian Teo who works at Google APAC as User Education and Outreach Manager. He is also husband to stay-at-home mum Faith, and dad of three kids aged 7, 12, and 15 years.
(See also: FREE post-HBL Fun for Kids and Families)
Hi Lucian, could you share a little about what you do at Google?
I am part of a team that promotes digital literacy and online safety education. We ran around 20 workshops in Singapore over the past two years, sharing tips on how to set digital ground rules and build good security practices for families. I am very thankful that my work has enabled me to teach online safety to students, parents and teachers in over 20 countries.
Being an advocate for internet safety has become a life mission for me, and is more a lifestyle than a job. In joining Google, I discovered that many parents struggled with their children’s digital device use and online safety. As a parent myself, these were issues that I wrestled with personally, so I wanted to share everything I learned.
Kids are exposed to the online world more and more, and seem to start earlier and earlier. Is this true?
According to a survey that we ran in Singapore, the average age a child receives their first internet connected device is eight years old — this is among the youngest in the world! Because of my own use of technology, my kids were inevitably exposed to various devices and user interfaces since young. In fact, my son’s first word was “Apple”, and he wasn’t referring to the fruit!
(See also: Online Fresh Food Delivery in Singapore)
How did you introduce the internet to your children?
We rolled things out bit by bit. When they were younger, we downloaded apps to teach them things like the alphabet, or sounds that different animals make. Our children would be allowed only to watch and interact within the app, but they didn’t get to decide which videos they wanted to watch.
A basic rule of thumb at home is that we don’t give control to the child until they are able to understand that it is a privilege that comes with certain responsibilities. We only allowed them control of devices when they grew older and understood the boundaries we set. For instance, which YouTube channels they are allowed to watch, and daily time limitations.
What advice do you have for parents trying to manage their children’s online time?
As part of my work at Google, we tell parents that setting rules and boundaries on device usage is important. But it is also crucial that these rules have some flexibility and work specifically for your family and children.
Our children’s experience in the digital world is also dependent on what they do on the internet. Screen time isn’t a catch-all phrase, because two hours of homework doesn’t equate to two hours of mindlessly watching videos. It’s important for parents to have a more nuanced grasp of what children do on devices. This could include both work and play, consuming content, as well as creating works.
How do you practise this flexibility at home?
My wife and I are fairly strict and establish rules for all technology use in the family. As our first child grows older, we allow her more freedom, as she shows that she is capable of meeting her responsibilities. In comes child number two, a few years younger, but demanding the same freedoms be afforded to him. We have to manage his expectations.
Similarly, my elder son likes watching gaming videos on YouTube and we have found some suitable channels. As a rule, all videos are watched on the family TV in the living room. The issue arises when my youngest, a good five years younger than his older brother, happily watches along. We’re not entirely certain that we would have allowed him to watch these particular videos at his age, but it is close to impossible to ask him to go to the room while his older brother watches.
What are some other challenges you’ve faced as your children grow up?
One of the biggest challenges is our children comparing with their friends. My sons always ask why they have restrictions when their friends don’t. The only response we have is that they are not our children, and we can’t enforce our family rules on them.
Even now, at 12 years old, my son doesn’t have a browser or YouTube installed on his phone. He can use messaging apps that only our family uses. We recently allowed him to download another messaging app for his teachers and classmates to stay in touch for school-related matters, but we limit the use of this app to one hour using Family Link. We also regularly check on what our son is doing on the app to make sure no inappropriate content is shared and the influences are positive — that my son is being an appropriate influence on his classmates and vice versa.
Do these ‘policing’ measures hurt your relationships with your kids?
My wife and I always make sure to emphasise to the children that we monitor their use of digital devices because we love them and want to ensure nothing threatens their well-being. I don’t think we will ever really know which path was right. Maybe giving total freedom to the child means they learn faster. Perhaps we needed to be stricter in some areas.
But one thing for sure is that if my children express that they need more freedom, we talk about it. We discuss what freedom they need, and why they need it. My role as a parent is to teach them how to be responsible for the freedom they are given. So we’ll work together till they are able to manage their own screen time and digital behaviour. The conversations aren’t always easy, but they help the kids — and us — to grow.
What are some digital dangers to look out for and what can parents do?
In my role at Google, I see first-hand how the online digital threat landscape is changing. Nowadays, we’re witnessing a trend of bad actors online moving towards social engineering attacks rather than malware. This means that they target the human rather than the software, because humans are easier than computers to “hack”. And impressionable kids are particularly vulnerable to online “groomers”.
As a parent, this has driven me to ensure that I am vigilant, play an active role as gatekeeper, and put in place preventive measures to ensure my children have a positive experience online. Some helpful tools we use include:
- Family Link, which helps us stay in the loop while our kids are using their mobile devices, keep an eye on their screen time, and manage their apps.
- Google SafeSearch, which helps us to filter out mature content that may not be suitable for our children.
- YouTube Kids, for our sons who are below 13, allowing us control over what they watch and for how long. It lets us turn off the search function to limit the YouTube Kids experience to channels that have been verified by the YouTube Kids team and limit videos to parent-approved content. This means we can handpick every video available to our children, complete with a timer to limit screen time.
- Restricted Mode on the main YouTube app, for our daughter who is 15 years old. This screens out potentially mature content as well.
How can parents encourage their children to use technology positively?
Parents can point their children to educational content on the web. When he was five and a half, my son could name every single country on the world map. He learnt them all from singing a song on a YouTube video we showed him!
Even better, take an active role in helping your children create with technology. Make videos, write songs — rather than just watching videos that other people make.
It’s AR of the tiger!— Google (@Google) May 31, 2019
If you’ve got an AR-enabled phone, you can now bring select animals right into your space for a safari (or safe snuggle) with Search. pic.twitter.com/kWpudETgeq
Expand Your Child’s HBL Scope
Beyond HBL online classrooms and school assignments during this Circuit Breaker period, it’s a good idea to offer your child even more ways to stay productive and enrich their #stayhome time. Here are some Google resources that parents can tap on:
- Learn@Home – Learning resources and content across maths, science, history and the arts from popular learning channels. It also features a dedicated section where parents and kids under 13 years can watch videos together that encourage creativity, curiosity, playfulness and offline activities.
- YouTube Learning Destination – Expanded to serve as a helpful resource featuring high-quality learning content on YouTube. It regularly features supplemental learning content, celebrates learning moments, and shares tips for learners.
- AR animals in Google Search – Bring a virtual zoo to you. Besides learning about an animal’s lifespan, diet, and other characteristics, this augmented reality function lets you meet brown bears, sharks, and 27 other animals in your living room.
- Google Arts & Culture app – Tap on the treasures, stories and knowledge of over 2,000 cultural institutions from 80 countries. Trigger the AR Big Bang and join Tilda Swinton on an epic journey through the birth and evolution of the universe. Or walk through the Art of Colour “Pocket Gallery”, a life-size virtual space reflecting the works of art inside.
- Google Earth Voyager – See the world through a collection of map-based stories. Keep children engaged by taking them on a mission with Google Earth’s detective Carmen Sandiego or teach them new things about the world with fun quizzes.
- #Studywithme – A playlist for students studying from home to study together and share their learning experiences online.
Any last words, Lucian?
Perhaps a word of advice for parents who love sharing about their children online. This is also something we often tell parents in our workshops at Google — we need to be mindful about our children’s privacy and to not overshare, as it may have direct and negative impact on their lives in the future. For myself, I used to blog very frequently, through courtship, marriage and the birth of my first child. I stopped after my oldest turned two because I realised that I was no longer just writing about my life. I was writing about her life as well, and she deserves to tell the story of her life herself.