Our kids’ pandemic-induced crash-course on digital and social

I got an email from my daughter, only 10, that she sent from her school email ID (via Google Suite for Education)! It wasn’t any email – she shared a Google Slides file she had created about cats and since we both love cats, she shared it with me!

I remember sharing my first Slide deck (not just emailing a Microsoft PowerPoint deck) only in my late 30s.

My daughter is also spending more time organizing her desktop in the laptop she uses for school, than organizing her physical wardrobe or her desk! So, she finds cat-based wallpapers for the default Google screen, for the desktop… meticulously arranging the icons and so on.

I recall doing this in my mid-20s.

My son, on the other hand, is obsessed with cleaning up his inbox by just archiving everything, while my daughter creates multiple tags/folders and keeps emails segregated.

After Gmail’s seemingly unlimited space, I have stopped obsessing over such things.

Our children have gotten a 6-month crash-course in using digital tools, what took all of us adults many, many years of evolution.

Along with this, comes almost unrestricted access to the internet, because they have unrestricted access to computing devices now, almost by force since school IS digital.

Even we, the adults, have not fully understood how to use the internet productively, and forget even completely basic rules like, “Never say what you wouldn’t say to your family, children, wife, parents… on social media” and have a go like absolute dolts when on social media.

When the children read those unfiltered junk from people like their own parents, we are setting a horrendous example of what they should follow. We had assumed that we can delay their access to the toxic pile of garbage we call ‘social media’ (where the good is hidden away in small corners) till they get slightly older. But now, that fig leaf has been forcibly removed by the pandemic.

And since even we adults do not have any formal understanding or learning of how to behave on the internet, and how we should use it appropriately, we’d be expecting our kids too to get online and learn their way, themselves.

This is a massive disaster in the waiting. And yet, we have only device-level, tool-level or access-level controls from the technology giants.

Apple, Microsoft and Google have tools on access control, time control and so on. The social media platforms have none whatsoever because they all presume that they have a minimum-age limit and that’s enough.

None of them have anything on behaviour and appropriate use of digital tools and platforms.

Absolutely nothing on content.

How about an interactive, fun quiz on how to behave online (focusing on the absolute basics) by Google, for every child being onboarded via the Education suite?

On how to deal with strangers online?

On how to understand the context of one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many communication online, when the ‘many’ could be complete strangers?

On how to deal with ‘privacy’ of their data and personal details?

All these are expected out of parents, to educate their children, even as the parents themselves are struggling with all these topics themselves, and bungling on many of these themes monumentally!

If you think of an analogy – the tech. giants are the car manufacturers and offer their cars for use on roads (the internet). For the first time, even children, who have not gone through the driving school, are bypassing driving age process/guidelines to start driving!

You could argue that parents would be better equipped to educate children, even if they themselves get a lot of online content and tools wrong. But parents do not sit on troves of data of how online behaviour is, by millions of people – the tech. giants do. They are far better equipped to map the bad behaviours, their repercussions, the good behaviours, the appropriate behaviours etc. using the data they have and make them into learnable content that acts as the equivalent of a driving-school.

Yet, there is nothing of that sort that acts as a gateway before children are adopting digital tools out of no other choice left by the pandemic!

Cover picture courtesy: Microsoft India

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