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Advocacy, Childhood, Parenting


Allow me to pose a question; would you take your eyes off your child at the local park, turn your back on them and allow strangers to interact with them without monitoring them or filtering who has access to your child? Of course you wouldn’t, but every day parents are disseminating images and videos of their children across social media without actively filtering who has access to such material.

 

We are seeing more and more Instagram and Facebook pages for children as young as 3 months old popping up on our news feeds with no security settings. Parents uploading more and more family moments without the most basic of filtering or safety measures. A recent study by Nominet, which handles the UK’s .uk domain name registry, found parents post nearly 200 photos of their under-fives online every year without any security settings set on their social media accounts.

 

Australia’s National Children Commissioner Megan Mitchell urges parents to be cautious when posting “cute” photos of their babies on social media platforms if they are unaware of the security settings. She cited a recent example of an Australian man who posted a picture of his naked toddler in the bath on Facebook. He was unaware that his Facebook security settings were not limited and could be accessed by anyone, later discovering his photo was liked by over 3000 strangers.

 

There has been some movement towards regulating such activity;  this year the French Government warned parents to stop posting images of their young children on social media networks. Under France’s rigorous new privacy laws, parents could face fines of over $65,000 Australian dollars if convicted of publicising private details of their children without verbal consent of the child involved.

 

Dr Myra Hamilton, research fellow at the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW says that the issue of consent when it comes to posting photos of very young children is particularly concerning. “Toddlers and babies raise particularly salient issues because they are not able to give consent for their photos to be published online,” she says. Digital DNA or digital footprint are not easily erased, including every image and every comment posted of babies and toddlers online without appropriate security settings.

 

There is some evidence that there is a difference between what children and parents see as appropriate in relation to consent. The University of Michigan asked children and parents to describe the rules they thought were fair relating to technology. Adults answered with rather strong views and thoughts on appropriate screen time whereas children under 5 said their parents should not post anything online without asking them. They felt they were lacking any control in their own privacy.

 

Social media demands balancing risk with opportunity. Children’s safety in social media is vital and more work will undoubtedly need to be done to advance the child’s digital rights. Without appropriate safeguards needed to participate and exercise rights, children can neither take advantage of the opportunities digital media afford nor develop resiliency when facing risks.

 

As children learn to think critically and develop their own language, views, strategies, associations and interests as users of connected digital media, parents undoubtedly need to make this a safe space by learning and implementing appropriate security settings.

Written by Kate Montiglio

Kate Montiglio is a mother of 2 children aged 15 and 11 and based in Newcastle, New South Wales. A professionally trained classical ballet dancer and preschool ballet teacher for over 14 years Kate enjoys impromptu dance class with her students and is currently studying children’s yoga. A keen reader and student of modern pedagogical development in the digital age she has a strong interest in appropriate screen time, appropriate out door exploring nature, child driven play and the digital rights of the child. Kate is in her final year of Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood at Swinburne University Of Technology and is planning to further her studies and complete her Master’s Degree. Kate is also in the early stages of applying to open her own family day care.

 

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Childhood, Parenting

A few weekends back, I went camping with the family. We headed out to a 6000 acre cattle farm with no electricity, no television, no computers, no phones. IT WAS AMAZING. 

While we take regular opportunities to unplug and head into nature on the weekends, it is usually only a couple of hours at most and before you know it we are home and the phone is ringing or the “I’ll just check my email quickly” is creeping back into my vocabulary. This camping trip was 2.5 days of complete and utter disconnection… yet was the most connected time we have had in a long time. We slowed down. We seemed to have so much more time. 

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, particularly as a question around technology in early childhood settings was raised in a Facebook group in the last few weeks. This is something that I have had internal struggles with in the past, and I think many educators (and parents) do. Let’s look at an average early childhood service and even just society in general… 
How do we document? Often on a computer or tablet, after taking a thousand photos on a digital camera (don’t get me wrong, I am a photography nut!) 

How do we communicate with families? Well, I hope that the personal conversations are still happening, but there is often a lot of email and app based communication systems in use, due to time, shifts etc. 

How often do we walk past a group of people sitting together, each on their phones? Probably way too often. This is something that I am becoming more and more conscious of and while I get it, there are times when things need to be done – texting to check on a sick child, transferring money, checking in on a work email, it seems to be that we are relying on technology for social interaction more and more, when real living breathing people are right there with us. 


The point here isn’t to guilt anyone into abandoning technology (and for the purposes of this article, I am talking about digital technology specifically). Technology has a place and has made some amazing advancements in the way we live our lives, but there is a real risk of it taking over! And this is where my struggle appears. The world is a place of technology, children see us using phones and tablets and computers every day, and often for large chunks of the day, it makes sense that they want to use these too. I am not anti-technology. Right now my son is building a yoga studio on Minecraft. But, I think we need to be wary about how we use digital technology in early childhood settings. Giving a child an iPad or plonking them in front of the TV for 30 minutes peace to cook dinner is something that many parents will confess to – I know I do (whatever saves my sanity I say!) But, when we know the impact of excess screen time on children’s development  surely we have an obligation as early childhood professionals to not contribute to that. 

That being said, I have seen some wonderful examples of children working together to create something using digital technology, or interests being enhanced by research online. It is possible to be mindful in the way that we use technology in early childhood settings – it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. 

But what I noticed on our weekend of “nothing” was how much the children did. There was no “I’m bored” or “what can I do now?” it was calm and yet busy. 
They had time (and freedom)
to wander
to watch bugs
to kick a ball
to look for wombats
to read books
to play board games
to go for bush walks
to PLAY
 

And, as an adult in that setting, having no phone or iPad or computer calling me, urging me to write or contribute to online discussions or play Candy Crush, I benefited too. 
I listened more
I asked more questions
I wondered more
I read a book
I went for bush walks
I stargazed
I had good, robust conversations with real people
I PLAYED! 

We can’t unplug every day. I need to work and like most jobs now, a large portion of my work requires me to be banging away at the keyboard. But I have made an effort to not be so plugged in, to do things that make me feel good. And as a result, my children are wanting to plug in way less too. In early childhood settings, we should be unplugged as much as we can be. The time will come where these children will be teenagers or adults who are slaves to their phones/computers/tablets/whatever technological device is the “thing” in another 15-20 years! 

Instead of rushing them into digital technology with the idea that “it’s a part of their world, they need to know it” perhaps we can decide that “play is their world, they deserve to know it.” 


Are you worried that without digital technology children will miss out on important STEM skills? Then our new book is for you… 
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