Monthly Archives: December 2017

Teaching preschoolers internet safety

Fifteen years ago, parents and caregivers did not have to worry about teaching pre-school aged children about internet safety. A new report prepared for the Children’s Commissioner of England suggests this time has passed.

Children now live in a digital age, which means internet access is a daily part of life for many young children around the world.

Touchscreen technologies have changed how accessible the internet is for very young children, particularly between the ages of four and five. It’s now quicker and easier to connect to the internet using these technologies, as they don’t require the same level of fine motor and literacy skills used to navigate a mouse and keyboard.

More recently, the Internet of Things has become widespread. The Internet of Things uses small chips embedded in everyday items, including children’s toys, to communicate information to the net. Children’s dolls, teddy bears and figurines can record their play and upload this information as data to the web. This can occur without children’s consent because they wouldn’t be aware they’re generating data.

The three main risks

Internet safety addresses three main risks faced by children online. These are contact, conduct and content risks:

  • contact risks involve children talking to unknown people on the internet. Contact risks also include the harvesting of children’s data, such as recording their activity on an online game
  • conduct risks are about behaving respectfully online and learning to manage digital footprints
  • content risks are concerned with the type of material children view and consume when accessing the internet.

For pre-school aged children, content risks include accidentally viewing inappropriate content such as pornography. Content also considers the quality of material made available to children. How people are represented in society is mirrored back to children through the media they consume. Quality content for young children has been a concern of the Australian Council on Children and the Media for many years.

Contact risks are most likely to occur for pre-school aged children in the form of pop-ups. Children of this age can also be active in virtual worlds, such as Pocoyo World or Club Penguin, where they can engage with other members. Children may not always know the members they are playing with in these worlds.

Conduct involves learning how to be respectful online. Parents can model good conduct behaviours to their children by always asking permission to take photos before posting to social media.

Children as young as four are now online

Internet safety in early childhood is a new area of research because, until now, children as young as four weren’t able to easily access the internet.

A recent study conducted with 70 four-year old children examined what children understand about the internet and being safe online. In this study, only 40 per cent of children were able to describe the internet. This was despite all of the children having access to internet at home, predominately through touchscreen technologies.

Children’s understandings of the internet were associated with their experiences going online and using technologies with their families. They defined the internet as being “in the iPad” or something they used “in the lounge room” to “play games”.

Children were also aware the internet “was used by Mummy for her work” or “by my big sister for her emails”. Some 73 per cent of the children said they would tell someone their address on the internet. And 70 per cent said they would also tell someone how old they were. A further 89 per cent of children indicated they would click on a pop-up even if they did not know what the pop-up was about.

Parenting young children for internet safety

Because children face content, contact and conduct risks online, they require a basic understanding of the internet. The most important thing parents can teach their children about internet safety is that “the internet” means a network of technologies that can “talk” to each other.

This is like teaching children to be sun smart. First, we explain the sun can harm our skin. Next we teach children to wear a hat, a long-sleeved shirt and sunscreen to protect themselves.

For internet safety, we should first explain the internet uses many technologies that share information created and collected by lots of people. Then we can teach our children how to protect themselves online. Some things to teach your child are:

  • seek adult help when you encounter a pop-up
  • only use adult approved sources for content
  • don’t share personal information online
  • try to be near an adult when using a device
  • only click on apps and tabs a parent or caregiver has set up for you.

The internet forms a large part of daily life for many young children. From watching their favourite YouTube clips, to playing games, to talking with a long-distance relative over video-conferencing, being online is not much different to a young child than being offline. Being safe in both spaces is possible with adult support.

Original article published by the Conversation.

By Australian Catholic University Education Professor Susan Edwards

 

Bedtime routine key to best start

What happens in the early years of a person’s life has a profound effect on how they fare later on. Thousands of research papers – many of them using the rich data in the British Birth Cohort studies – have shown that children who get a poor start in life are much more likely to experience difficulties as adults; whether that’s to do with poor health, or their ability to enjoy work and family life.

Ensuring that children get enough sleep is one of a number of ways to get them off to the best possible start in life. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that toddlers should get roughly 11 to 14 hours of sleep every day. For children aged three to five years, the recommendation is ten to 13 hours, or nine to 11 hours for children once they’re at primary school.

But the latest research carried out by our team at UCL’s International Centre for Lifecourse Studies, shows that it’s not just the amount of sleep a child gets which matters. After digging into the data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) – which has followed the lives of some 20,000 children since the turn of the century – we found that having a regular bedtime also affects how they get on at home and at school, throughout the first decade of their lives.

The ‘jet lag’ effect

To begin with, we looked at the relationship between regular and irregular bedtimes, and how the children got on in a range of cognitive tests. Parents who took part in the MCS were asked whether their children went to bed at a regular time on weekdays. Those who answered “always” or “usually” were put in the regular bedtime group, while those who answered “sometimes” or “never” were put in the irregular bedtime group.

The results were striking. Children with irregular bedtimes had lower scores on maths, reading and spatial awareness tests. In fact, the time that children went to bed had little or no effect on their basic number skills, or their ability to work with shapes. But having no set bedtime was linked to lower scores, especially for three-year-olds. The greatest dip in test results was seen in girls who had no set bedtime throughout their early life.

At the heart of this phenomenon is the circadian rhythm – the internal body clock, which tells you when it’s time to sleep and wake up.

If I travel from London to New York, I’m likely to be slightly ragged when I arrive, because jet lag is going to affect my cognitive abilities, appetite and emotions. If I bring one of my children with me, and I want them to do well at a maths test having just jumped across time zones, they will struggle even more than I will. If we think of the body is an instrument, then a child’s body is more prone to getting out of tune.

The same thing happens when children go to bed at 8pm one night, 10pm the next and 7pm another .  Scientists sometimes call this the “social jet lag effect”. Without ever getting on a plane, a child’s bodily systems get shuffled through different time zones, and their circadian rhythms and hormonal systems take a hit as a result.

Best behaviour

As well as enhancing a child’s intellectual development, we found that regular bedtimes can also improve their behaviour.

At age seven, according to parents and teachers, children in the MCS who had irregular bedtimes were considerably more likely to have behavioural problems than their peers who had a regular bedtime. The more frequently a child had been able to go to bed at different times each night, the worse his or her behavioural problems were. In other words, the effects appeared to accumulate throughout childhood.

But we did find an important piece of good news, too: those negative effects on behaviour appeared to be reversible. Children who switched to having a regular bedtime showed improvements in their behaviour. This shows that it’s never too late to help children back onto a positive path, and a small change could make a big difference to how well they get on.

But of course, the reverse was also true: the behaviour of children who switched from a regular to an irregular bedtime got worse.

A weighty problem

In a follow-up study, which looked at the impact of routines (including bedtimes) on obesity, we reported that children with irregular bedtimes were more likely to be overweight, and have lower self-esteem and satisfaction with their bodies.

In fact, of all the routines we studied, an inconsistent bedtime was most strongly associated with the risk of obesity. This supports other recent findings, which show that young children who skipped breakfast and went to bed at irregular times were more likely to be obese at age 11. Even children who “usually” had a regular bedtime were 20 per cent more likely to be obese than those who “always” went to bed at around the same time.

Clearly, the evidence shows that a regular bedtime really matters when it comes to children’s health and development, throughout that crucial first decade of their lives. Including these findings alongside recommended hours of sleep in advice for all those caring for young children could make a real difference, by helping protect children from “social jet lag” and getting them off to a flying start instead.

Original article published by the Conversation “Giving children regular bedtimes stops them getting ‘jetlag'”

By University College London Professor Yvonne Kelly