OPINION: 'Letting children use tech can be a positive thing'

Ruth Davies blogger's children

Ruth Davies has allowed her children more access to technology during lockdown - but says it has its positives - Credit: Ruth Davies

During the last year my children have been allowed more access to the online world than they would have, had the world kept turning normally, otherwise. It was a really hard decision and it’s not for everyone but we balanced up the pros and cons. We decided that isolation for a child was very different to those of us with the media at our finger tips and I wanted them to be able to communicate with friends albeit under some level of supervision. It was an easy transition for Florence who already had a mobile phone for safety and though she’d not used it much before, she soon got the hang of mobile life. 

She’s surprised me with how little she uses it though, only really for the necessary and without her nose stuck to it 24/7. She has been very sensible largely, we’ve had a few conversations about what’s appropriate but I’m proud of her. She uses it, as we’d hoped, to stay in touch with the friends she knows well and trusts, but still we remind her, tone and jokes can be taken very differently when written down and once something is said it can never be taken away. So far, so good. 

For Jimmy, who didn’t have a phone of his own, chatting was harder. In fact chatting isn’t something that comes easily to him and his friends as a thing to do on its own, it’s when they play that they talk so we had to think past Zoom and Portal. It became clear fairly early on that most of his gang had been allowed to play Fortnite or Minecraft with their mics on – closely monitored but able to chat with the kids they knew and though it terrified me because I knew so little about it, we agreed for him to have accounts too and I’m so glad we did.

I stepped away from my firm frightened no and educated myself in how the game works, how to monitor use and enable Jimmy to enjoy all the fun elements to playing on line. He gained from this window and though it’s true, I think, he can have an overload at times making him very moody, we have got on top of which time limits work for him. The benefits far outweighed the negatives as, while he didn’t chat about anything meaningful while playing, he kept in contact and that has been worth its weight in gold. Usage has gone down considerably now they can run around together too. This has been self-limited so I feel by not keeping it from him he’s been less bothered about it.   

I understand the fear of allowing more access to social media and on line gaming because I’ve had it myself, I still have it in fact. It’s not something you can rest your laurels on. I constantly check, looking out for them, but I want them to have access as I myself have so much enjoyment from social media. People always ask me if I’m fearful for having shared so much of our family on line in general and if I might be best off covering their faces and/or changing their names for the things I write but I always tell them no, I’m very happy with my choices.

My thoughts are that if someone wants to find out about you then they will, regardless of how much or little you put on line. I also feel the world is ever evolving and social media, while quite frightening for my generation, will be so normal and commonplace in years to come that it would be strange to think of a time when people didn’t use it. There are lots of negatives to social media in general but I wonder if people forget the positives too; so for us it’s about being as careful as we can be whilst still allowing progress and trying to understand their needs as things move on in the world of tech. 

At one point my children began a weekly hangout playing an online game together alongside friends in London and Amsterdam. They’d all been born in Leytonstone where we used to live and spent their formative years playing together only to be split up when we all moved away. Suddenly the gang of them were laughing and joking as if all in the one room again and that moment was precious – it showed me just how much they’d miss without this wonderful world wide web of ours. I’m encouraging the children to keep their weekly meet ups with friends on line because the world doesn’t have to be small - if you open it up it can be as wide as you need it to be, you just have to be proactive about educating both them and yourselves, all the time!