We are all addicted

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There has been so much in the news lately about online or gaming addiction.  The World Health Organisation has listed “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition.     I have to say, these gaming companies, are doing an amazing job at using persuasive technology to keep us all hooked.  I know from my own experience, that I am addicted to my phone; I automatically take it everywhere I go. I have to work hard at just leaving it at home.  But my life will not end without it.

I was at an event a few weeks ago and I was chatting with a colleague about technology addiction.  We both went into our phones and changed the settings so that our scenes were black and white.  It felt completely

strange, almost boring and I didn’t feel engaged.  I lasted about an hour with my settings; my friend lasted longer, but we both reverted to the colour scene.  We have been trained to see a phone in colour and to be notified every time something happens.  I am sitting in a café now, watching the world go by, as I type this blog.  I would say 8 out of 10 people are on their phones; they could be listening to music, reading messages or on Social Media.  What we are failing to realise, or maybe choosing to ignore, is that technology companies are deliberating building tech to be addictive.  All of these companies are commercial enterprises and are earning money from our usage. They want us to spend more time online; the longer we stay connected, the more money we are worth.

Technology companies apparently use psychology, including using the anticipation of a reward to our actions to create habit forming behaviour.   The 3 dots which appear when someone else is typing are put there to keep you hooked.  You are waiting for that response. Our phones refresh automatically, yet, we pull down to refresh, because we anticipate pleasure from receiving a new message.  You do not need to, it is making us stay on our phones for longer.  When that Red 1 appears, our human instinct wants to get rid of it, resolve it and make it disappear.  Once it is cleared, we are happy again.  I think Facebook get the gold medal for keeping us hooked, with likes, loves, memories and much more.  That Red 1 has a lot to answer for.  We should look at our own habits and not be surprised when our children seem addicted to their screens.

An NHS Trust is launching a partly NHS-funded internet addiction clinic and it is great that they will provide for support for those small number of extreme cases where lives are severely impacted by gaming.  Most of our children are not addicted to that extent but many parentsare concerned about the amount of time they spend online, be it gaming, watching YouTube or on social media.  We know it impacts on their sleep, eyesight, social interaction, physical activity, reading or doing homework.  Yes, it might help their hand/eye coordination but so would hitting a ball outside!

I was with a friend at the weekend and whenever she takes Fortnite away from her son, he literally wrecks the house and starts smashing things up.  Yes, he has an addiction but at some point, my friend gave into his demands. He has learnt that if he kicks off enough the parent will give in and he wins.   Where has our backbone gone regarding managing our children’s internet or gaming usage.  We have become lazy.It is easier just to leave them on the screen, where they are quiet instead of having a battle or,  dare I say it, engaging positively with our children.

We also need to set a good example.  64% of children want their parents TO PUT DOWN THEIR DEVICES. I get we all have busy lives but,

come on, what happened to good old-fashioned parenting.  We really do have to try to curb our own addiction and lead by example.  I have switched off all my notifications on my social media: it stops me waiting for those “likes”.  As a result, I visit Facebook, Instagram less.  At night I put my phone on Do Not Disturb.  I do not receive emails, phone calls or texts from anyone that isn’t on my favourites list from 8pm – 7am.  We also, have to, at some point, stop blaming the companies for everything that is happening to us and our children; we have to start taking responsibility for ourselves.  After all business is business and although there are useful campaigns to change their behaviour, ultimately it is up to us to be aware of and help our children to resist their ploys.

Here’s a challenge for you.  This week go out without your phone, go for a walk, get your children to come with you and ALL leave the phones behind.

Let’s teach ourselves and our children that it is great to disconnect from the online world every now and then.  Life is short and there is a wonderful, physical world just outside the door.

Education or regulations?

Educating rather than blocking  

Our latest Gooseberry Alert is now on the platform.  This one is all about Changing Perceptions.

The Department for Education recently updated its statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe In Education which will apply to all schools from 3rd September 2018. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/keeping-children-safe-in-education–2

The DfE appears to be shifting its emphasis from relying on blocking and filtering, to advocating a more holistic approach including teaching online safety for the whole school community.  It is also encouraging that the government is recognising that online safety impacts many safeguarding issues including child sexual exploitation, radicalisation and sexual predation.

In the September 2016 statutory guidance, blocking and filtering were made mandatory, but thankfully the DfE has realised that children have 3G or 4G on the phones, so no matter how much schools filter and block, the risks to children’s safety from their online activities do not disappear.  Schools might well be protecting themselves in case they are sued, but what is really important is that they protect children.

 “Governors and proprietors should consider a whole school approach to online safety. Whilst it is essential that governing bodies and proprietors ensure that appropriate filters and monitoring systems are in place, they should be careful that “over blocking” does not lead to unreasonable restrictions as to what children can be taught with regard to online teaching and safeguarding”

“The use of technology has become a significant component of many safeguarding issues. Child sexual exploitation; radicalisation; sexual predation: technology often provides the platform that facilitates harm.  An effective approach to online safety empowers a school or college to protect and educate the whole school or college community in their use of technology and establishes mechanisms to identify, intervene in and escalate any incident where appropriate.”

I think the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What is an effective approach?”  Do we expect children

to learn this subject in one-off lessons or in an assembly?  Since when did we learn how to swim in one lesson?  There is no programme or process for schools to follow.  What needs to go wrong before schools start to take notice, and realise that it is not enough to just tick a box after giving a PowerPoint presentation?

Online grooming is one of the biggest fears of any parent.  Children are being groomed via games, such as Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft.  We need to teach them what to be aware of, how someone might groom them and how a potential offender might behave towards them.  Until we start using the right language we will not have an impact.

We talk to children about their online and offline lives but we need to realise that they see little distinction; being online is a huge and natural part of their lives.  Being a mother of two boys aged 11 and 16, I know that if I shut down their access to the internet, I shut down access to their friends and social circles.  Just as we teach children about road safety, we need to help them to develop the skills to be aware of dangers online.  We cross the road with them when they are younger but at some stage they have to cross the road by themselves.  Blocking will never allow them to be aware of the risks and signs of danger.  Furthermore, I believe online safety should be taught at a very early age.  With recently published statistics showing that 71% of 5/6 years olds have an internet enabled device in their bedrooms and that 4 in 10 children under the age of 13 have been approached by someone they do not know, we need to start children’s online education much earlier.  New figures out from O2, reveal that 98% of children being groomed are under the age of 13 years old.

Many parents are unable to keep up with what their children are doing and where potential dangers lie in the rapidly changing technology world which their children can readily access.  Over 50% of teachers feel uncomfortable teaching the subject and yet 65% of parents want schools to teach their children about online safety.   Until the DfE recognises online safety as a necessary life skill which needs to be taught in the same way as any other subject on the curriculum, the problem will grow.

PARENT ONLINE SAFETY PARENT WORKSHOP WEBINARS – FREE
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ONLINE SAFETY CPD FOR TEACHERS – FREE
This is free of charge and anyone in your school can register.  Just click here.  Are you interested in holding an event for your school group or trust?

Please email hello@gooseberryplanet.com and we can arrange an event for you.