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Guest Post: Generation Disconnection

May 28, 2013 at 12:14 PM

Aftermath

This guest post comes to us from Pierce Higgins, founder of AfterMath, a website that enables a child to earn his time online by answering educational challenges. 

It a great privilege to be asked to write a guest blog for uKnowKids.com, one of the world’s leading companies in the “Parental Intelligence” space. uKnowKids has a range of category-winning products for parents that cover areas such as social monitoring, mobile monitoring and location monitoring.

Today’s parents have become disconnected from the digital lives of their children and have become increasingly incapable of dealing with cyberbullying, sexting issues ,mortifying video clips on YouTube amongst many.

For us parents the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” highlights the worry and concern we experience as we try to cope with these very real issues.

Parental Intelligence is one of those oxymorons like “waterproof” or “unbreakable”.

From the perspective of teenage children, parents are extremely “unintelligent” when it comes to digital devices in the home.

How many mothers have bought a new laptop home and given it to their children to set up never realizing that the kids have made themselves administrators with full privileges and their mother a guest with limited privileges?

Parental Intelligence in the context of monitoring would refer to the gathering of data that enables good decision making in the context of children. Parental Intelligence in the context of the digital home means filling a disconnection from our children.

I founded Aftermath www.getaftermath.com on the back of certain experiences as a parent of three children which I felt were being mirrored across the globe as parents experienced a digital watershed in the last few years.

I remember a time, not so long ago, when the TV sat in a room and the family would gather together to watch a favorite program and make snacks while the ads were on.

My children have not shared a program with myself or my wife in over three years. They each go to their rooms and watch the screens on their laptops/ipads/phones!

There was a time when a parent could pick up the house phone and know who was calling for their kids and even listen in to discreetly determine if there was anything to worry about.

Now children have mobile devices and parents know little about who, or what, they are talking about. We read in the media about Facebook and Pinterest and Tumblr but young teens are plugged into WhatsApp, Viber, Ask.fm, and many more.

There used to be many opportunities to engage with our children and provide parental support and help. The proliferation of digital devices in the home has changed this balance.

As parents we have become disconnected from the lives of our children and I am afraid there may be a price to pay down the road.

This is not an unrecognized issue and the major companies in the digital arena have made efforts to provide parents with better controls and better abilities to re-engage with their children.

Unfortunately, in my view, these are just token gestures. Facebook and Tumblr are just not going to enable parents monitor what is going on in their children’s lives. Apple iPhone and Microsoft/Nokia Windows Phone are going to continue to make it ridiculously easy for children to turn off monitoring applications.

When my son was 15, I activated the parental controls on the Apple Mac at home which shut him out of the computer at certain hours and after a lot of usage. Within 24 hours he had taught himself how to take root control of the machine, make himself an administrator, change the controls and then reset the machine so I would not notice. Only that he had written some code on piece of paper beside the computer which I googled was I able to discover what he had done.

My experience with major mobile phone companies is that they are only paying lip service to the concerns of parents. They see young children as a growing and vital market and they are just not going to do anything that disrupts their ability to sell to that market. It is like trying to convince a cigarette company to sell “tobacco-free” cigarettes!

Rule No. 1

Once your child has physical possession of the digital device they will ALWAYS find ways to circumvent whatever parental controls are in place.

It needs to become a zero-sum game where the child accepts that it is just not worth the effort of overcoming the control mechanism.

In Aftermath www.getaftermath.com  the child earns their time online by answering educational challenges. The child decides how much time they want to earn. We have found that children are not negative to the idea that time online can be a reward for successfully carrying out tasks such as educational challenges.

Aftermath currently offers educational challenges that cover math for 11-16 year olds. It is Free for Summer 2013.

In Aftermath, we recognize the superior intelligence of the teenager and whilst we have tried to make it hard to circumvent, it is not impossible. What is impossible, is the prevention of a warning email to the parent that something has changed.

 As always, it is up to the parent to investigate and intervene.

Family structures are changing. Learn how to be a good digital parent and keep your kids safe with this infographic.

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Tim Woda

Written by Tim Woda

Tim Woda is an Internet safety expert, and a passionate advocate for empowering families and protecting children from today’s scariest digital dangers. Woda was on the founding team of buySAFE, an Internet trust and safety company, and he started working on child safety issues after his son was targeted by a child predator online. While his son was unharmed, the incident led Woda to kick-start uKnow.com. You can follow Tim on Twitter or on his blog.

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