What if children had no access to the internet until they had reached maturity benchmarks?

College Blog Wednesday, 01 July 2020

If a licence was required for children to access the internet I imagine, just like many late teen or even adult car drivers, they would follow the rules whenever they were being monitored to ensure they have the freedom that they desire; and then push the boundaries at other times. And, if we extend the comparison of driving a car compared with using the internet further, we can think of dangers and risk as well as convenience and constructive benefit from both.

I think it is fair to say that there has been far greater use of the internet in the last three months – for all of those who work from home and for each of those families who had online learning for a few weeks. To connect with others, we have needed the internet – for friendship, perspective, advice, encouragement, answers – we’ve relied on video calls, messaging and social media.

COVID19 has caused media consumption to increase across the globe (statista.com):

  • book reading and audiobook listening increasing by 14%
  • social media usage increasing by 21%
  • news consumption increasing by 36%

According to the New York Times (nytimes.com) in early April:

  • Faceboook, Netflix and YouTube had seen a significant jump in use (interestingly, in a decreasing amount through apps on phones as people worked from home)
  • gaming increased while visits to sports websites dropped as did Wikipedia hits
  • big increases in the use of all video conferencing platforms.

Analysis of more than 200 000 stories (5,653,404 words) written for ‘Storyathon’ in the context of COVID19 shows a change in children’s writing and I suggest many of these changes are a result of the different circumstances and new behaviours. There was an increased use of the following words (educationtoday.com.au):

  • we – 129% increase
  • people – 283% increase
  • friends – 572% increase
  • world – 346% increase
  • family – 327% increase
  • everyone – 183% increase

There is real potential for good to come from the internet and there is the real potential for damage. I would encourage the approach for families to be similar to teaching their children to drive – considered freedoms and responsibility based on demonstrated ability and safety. What if children had no access to the internet until they had reached maturity benchmarks?

And so, in considering the positives and negatives I share this 'Guidelines for Student Behaviour Online' that I trust families, and in particular students, will become very familiar with and readily refer to.

This term there have been a number of issues between students involving social media that have caused significant emotional challenge for the people involved, both students and families. It’s useful for parents to be aware that this happens.

I trust that as you read through what I write here, as well as the guidelines for student behaviour online, you can see that the goal is for positive and constructive use of online opportunities rather than “don’t do the wrong thing”.

The guidelines “for social media and online content” will encourage thinking that helps to love God and to love others and, just as importantly, give direction in how to love yourself. Teenagers feel like everyone in a group chat is agreeing with one bad comment when others don’t speak against that comment (even when only one or two may be present in the conversation at that time).

Older generations may think that there are online and offline parts of life that can be lived or kept as distinct and separate, but children use technology differently and communicate with entirely different methods and outcomes and continue online conversations the following day at school and then back online later that evening. Children use apps differently and know what can be saved and what is deleted immediately. Relationally, there is no separation between online and offline.

College staff expect children to make mistakes, developing the thinking that is present in these guidelines should reduce the frequency, likelihood and severity of these mistakes.

The verses which the College uses as its foundation come from Matthew 22 and they provide direction for all areas of life.

Colin Wood
Deputy Principal