In the midst of the Digital Age, our lives are now interconnected with the World Wide Web, a limitless source of knowledge and instant global connection. Expat families have it better than ever; able to see their loved ones back home with two taps of a finger and update friends on social media with precious moments with the kids. While this seems like a utopia of interaction, there is a downside to all this digital technology: the health and safety of young children can easily become compromised on the Internet. Parents today have learned to utilise digital technology, but they don’t necessarily understand the pitfalls. We spoke with Mougins School and the International School of Monaco (ISM) about how they protect students and teach parents about the digital world our children are growing up in.
From classroom lectures to recorded podcasts, both schools are making great efforts to bring parents into the discussion. Brian Hickmore, Headmaster of Mougins School says that preparing students for the high-tech world can be difficult because technology is advancing so rapidly. He welcomes the new technology but is careful for his students’ safety: “More and more lessons involve technology, making teaching and learning exciting and varied. The only way we can hope to ensure [students’] safety is by dialogue – lessons like PHSE (personal health and social education), can aboard new issues relating to eSafety with motivational speakers, films etc. We can make sure we teach it and hope we do enough to provide the children with the information they need to stay safe.”
Tablets are one of the most amazing inventions of our time. We can do so much with them. However, their effects on very young children can be potentially dangerous. The founders of our Digital Age, including Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs, highly restricted their children’s use of technology. Even the designer of the iPad, Jonathan Ive, refused to let his young children use one. The reasons are many, but the biggest threat is to babies, as touch screens can interfere with early brain and fine motor skill development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends strict limits to children’s screen time and urges no screen time before two years.
Both Mougins School and ISM agree on the need to protect the youngest children from too much screen time. Headmaster Hickmore recommends that small children should only use tablets in public spaces in the home and not to let children take the tablet into their room. Even older children should be restricted on screen time, he says, and suggests parents install an internet shutdown device to avoid overnight gaming.
Bullying has always existed in schools and many parents pass-off this new digital version as just another way kids are mean. But cyberbullying is not just a digital version of what happens in schools. According to Headmaster Hickmore, cyberbullying reaches a different level of “nastiness” because the person is not face-to-face with their victim. The anonymity allows them to use stronger language, post a more embarrassing photograph or go beyond the level they otherwise would—and the audience is much larger. An embarrassing moment in school could be shared with the entire student body (humiliating as that may seem), but cyberbullying has an unlimited audience, picking up momentum as an incident turns ‘viral.’ This has had detrimental effects, even leading to some children to take their own life out of shame.
“Parents need to understand cyberbullying and talk to their children on a regular basis about their use of social media,” says Headmaster Hickmore. He stresses that parents need to stay vigilant with what their adolescents are posting. Mougins School teaches students the importance of careful posting of photographs on social media how the law prohibits posting pictures of someone without their permission. “It takes a while to sink in,” he says, “but we have noticed some change in behaviour.”
ISM has a very strict “Acceptable use” policy for online posting and a “powerful filtering system” in the school. “We have our own definition of ‘digital citizenship,’ says ISM Director Gianni. “In the Secondary School, we encourage students to 'T.H.I.N.K' before posting on social media. This means: Is the post True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind?” They also practice what they preach: “We try to lead by example, always asking permission before posting any pictures of our students in our publications or on our website.”
Teaching parents ‘esafety’
Both schools offer lectures and workshops on cyber-security for parents. These not only inform but also reassure parents if they feel overwhelmed by the task of ‘gatekeeping’ their child’s internet use. The head of ISM’s Middle School holds regular workshops for parents which have proved helpful and informative. Those who aren’t able to attend the lectures can download the talk by podcast.
This past November, Mougins School brought in eSecurity specialist and digital parenting coach, Elizabeth Milovidov to speak with students and parents and opened the talk to the local community. An American born law professor, Elizabeth works with the Children’s Rights Division of the Council of Europe as an independent expert on Children and Internet safety. She provides support to governments and associations for Online Child Protection, travels the world to lecture on Internet Safety and coaches both parents and educators on the best practices in the Digital Age. She points out that this is the first generation to parent in the Digital Age without any instruction or guidance from our own parents. “We need to teach ourselves,” she says.
Headmaster Hickmore told Riviera Insider: “Elizabeth is an excellent motivational speaker and captured the children’s attention immediately. The Primary School children were extremely attentive to her strong guidance. The presentation to parents in the evening was also very well received – it was pitched at a different level without requiring any technical knowledge or training and presented the dangers the children face on a daily basis on their smartphones.”
Both Mougins School and the International School of Monaco welcome technology and are very positive about the amazing changes it has brought to our lives. They also take the safety of their students very seriously. ISM told us: “Technology is here to stay; our children need these skills but it’s all about finding the right balance.”