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Technology> Internet 18 Jul 2018

Six lessons for parents on the internet and social networks

The digital world has its own rules and dangers. Parents can’t expect children to learn for themselves, even if they are digital natives.

Parents in the 21st century face a new challenge: How to teach their children to find their way about the internet and the social networks? Digital natives have been used to handling themselves in the web from an early age and view internet connectivity as their natural habitat. They have an innate ability to move around in digital circles, but being a digital native is not the same as digital competence.

The internet and the social networks are a source of unpleasant phenomena such as cyberbullying and grooming when an adult tries to win over a minor to obtain some sort of sexual gratification.

Underage users are particularly vulnerable to such risks. A lack of life experience, their greater curiosity and their desire to try things out act against them and can cause them serious problems. On top of this, they are reluctant to ask for help out of fear of being reprimanded and also feel ashamed.

An increasing number of institutions and social groups are trying to help parents in this new aspect of educating children. The business association Club de Excelencia en Sostenibilidad (Sustainability Excellence Club) has published a guide titled ‘Guíde on the responsible use of technology in the family environment’, an initiative in which BBVA took part through the presence on its advisory board of Ana Gómez Blanco, a bank expert in personal behavior linked to cybersecurity.

For Gómez Blanco, the role of parent is not to ban internet use — “something absolutely useless”—, but to “accompany”. In her opinion, parents don’t need to do anything different from what they would do in the physical world. “We want to know where and with whom they hang about; in the internet you also try to know what applications they are using and with whom they share their information”.

Six pieces of advice for parents who want their children to move about safely on the internet can be gleaned from the Sustainability Excellence Club’s guidebook.

1. Children need to learn to manage the security of their accounts

A number of studies focus on the innate ability of minors in digital environments is confined to the field of leisure and but they don’t take care of the security of their accounts. They don’t pay attention to their passwords, which do not tend to be strong enough. This is one of the areas in which educational work by parents is important when it comes to showing how to make passwords more secure by, for example, using numbers and symbols, increasing the number of characters and avoiding natural language.

2. Children need to take care of personal hygiene … but also in the digital field

Children learn young that they shouldn’t share a toothbrush and they have to keep things tidy. However, they have “bad digital hygiene”, the Sustainability Excellence Club claims. They share accounts with friends, download applications without checking them out in the most minimal way what they are agreeing to in turn and what data they are giving access to.

"The time spent on the internet is time not spent on other things such as sports, studying, reading or simply spending time with friends"

3. What you upload to the internet remains there

Children are not aware of the idea of the ‘digital fingerprint’: what you stick on the internet remains on the internet and could cause them harm when joining the labor market. Parents need to get this idea across and be consistent in this, given that at times parents themselves share more information than they should about their children.

4. Take care not to get overconfident

Used to moving about the internet with natural ease, overconfidence could cause children a problem. They get the feeling that everything is under control but they forget there are real experts on the web that can use their knowledge to rip them off, con them, harass them, or usurp their identity…

5. No, not everything Google says is true

In the same way we know that everything on the printed page is not true, children need to learn that everything that appears in the internet is not the absolute truth. It’s not simply a question of imprecisions or small errors as shown by the phenomenon of fake news. The internet is a fertile ecosystem for spreading malicious hoaxes. You need to cast a critical eye when browsing in the internet.

6. There is a time and place for everything. Even the internet

You can get hooked on the technology and the time spent on the internet is time not spent on other things such as sports, studying, reading or simply spending time with friends in the flesh. Parents need to impose some control on the use of social networks and the internet through time limits and the correct use of the time spent, ideally set by children themselves.