“Kids need monitoring on the Internet”
An expert in social media and communication and digital management, Grau says leaving children to use tablets and mobiles without supervision is as dangerous as letting them wander around the streets by themselves
Francesc Grau (Banyoles, 1976) is an entrepreneur, social networks and new communication technologies expert, as well as a digital consultant. He has recently published a book: Tot el que heu de saber sobre internet abans que els vostres fills (Everything you need to know about the internet before your children do) (publisher, Eumo), which no doubt many parents have either been eagerly waiting for or will greatly appreciate
For the first time in history, are educators less informed than those who need educating?
I’m not one of those who thinks our children know more than we do. That’s not true and is a reductionist and demotivating message. Our children are not born taught, they are only born in a digital culture that we did not grow up in. We can overcome the great barrier to this world by taking the time to understand it. But not so much time in the digital world in general, because we already do that, from WhatsApp to social networks, but rather observing the digital world that our children are interested in. If we make the double effort to understand their world and spend time in it, we’ve done it.
Parents come from the culture of television, where they watch without doing anything. Is that the generational cut-off? Where interactivity begins and ends?
Today’s children are not interested in passivity. They want to choose, to take sides. Parents come from the one-directional culture of watching. Our children are moving towards interaction, which is more complex for us, although we are now getting used to it. They, on the other hand, don’t need to get used to anything, this culture is already internalised for them.
But a certain dose of receptive passivity is necessary for learning. Don’t they run the risk of losing concentration, on the one hand, and confusing the digital with the real world, on the other?
Parents’ work should not be so much instructing their children as accompanying them in the digital world. They should do this in a way that informs children about what they are seeing, being by their side, seeing what they do and putting what they see into context. It’s clear that the digital world will condition them in the real world. This excitement through images is translated into the non-digital world. When they leave the tablet or mobile to one side, it’s possible that their behaviour is influenced by what they’ve seen. But we shouldn’t underestimate our children by thinking they cannot distinguish between what happens on the screen and what happens outside. We have to monitor and give them bits of information here and there, just as we do in other areas of life. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, we simply have to accompany kids as we do in other aspects of life, with the only difference that in the digital world we must make an extra effort because we have not been educated in that.
In the book, you argue that it must be clear to children that what a person puts out on social networks is not the life of that person, that the internet is a distorted image of reality.
This distortion is part of the nature of these networks. When children get older, they will realise this and will take 25 photos on the beach one day and then post them gradually, as if they were going to the beach every day, but, at first, they need it explaining to them that everything they see, hear and read only forms part of a window on reality that, firstly, is larger, and also may be complete fiction. For example, sometimes a photo or video of an apparently spontaneous influencer has taken half an hour of preparation to get the right frame, lighting, decor, etc. A child may think that’s real. I show my eight-year-old son screen shots and ask for his opinion. What do you think about this photo? What do you think about this lady who just bought a car and has posted the photo on social networks? To make him reflect on what he sees.
At what age should they be allowed access to them?
I’m not going to comment on that. It’s like asking me when they should start watching TV or when they have to learn manners at the table.
I will put the question another way. What do you think when you see children a few months or years old with a smartphone in their hands?
I think that if their parents are not completely on top of it and not regulating the frequency with which they use it, it’s bad practice.
One metaphor in the book argues that just as no one would let young children go into the streets or the woods alone, they should not be left alone on the internet.
Sitting on the sofa at home with the smartphone, we feel safe, but the device is such a powerful window that, just to put a random number, a thousand things come in from the outside, five hundred good things and five hundred bad ones. Leaving our children alone in this digital jungle is crazy. This is what happened to kids a couple of generations ago who went out to play in the street away from their parents’ control. Only now they are not under control without leaving home. Going out on the street to play was actually much safer to going into the internet world. Because in your home street the neighbours knew you and the risks were known and predictable. Today, when a child goes on the internet, they can access any content, and when they have learned to spell and type, they can go wherever they want. To put it simply, the man in the mackintosh in the park is now easily found today with just a Google search. You find the man in the mackintosh without the mackintosh!
Should children be educated in using the internet before adolescence, which is when they build their personality and a profile on the networks?
We need to get through to our children before they stop listening to us. That is, before the pre-adolescence stage. Between seven or eight years old, when they already understand many things and want to learn, until 11 or 12. This is the small window of opportunity. They want to learn and they still listen to their parents. So, when they reach the more difficult age, they will be clear on a lot of important things.
Can you summarise what should be clear to them?
That what they see on the device is not physically there inside it, but rather in the cloud. That everything they publish becomes public and can therefore be seen by anyone. And, also, that they take into account what is known as online reputation. That is, what they publish today will remain there for a lifetime and they don’t know how it might affect them in the future when they are looking for a job, for example. We do not know if that message that we posted a year ago will be there for many years or forever, but what is certain is that it won’t be there only a short time surely. And we don?t know who will use that information or those images or for what purpose. We don’t have to repress them, but we need to make them aware that they will lose control of what they post can harm or help them in the future; it depends.
We adults say, write or do things on the internet that we might not do in real life. Should we be educating them by example?
On social media, we should do the same as in real life. We should not be transmitting our anger by insulting people on Twitter, or our happiness by showing off on Instagram. That is transmitting patterns of behaviour. The culture of new digital emotions must be managed. We are making a mistake in this regard, because we’ve learned as we go along. We have to try to help our children make fewer mistakes.
Apart from our children, shouldn’t we also be educating our parents, who have become fixated with new technologies, have a lot of free time to spend, and also educate their grandchildren’s kids?
That would be a different book!
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