The summer holidays have evolved; children are still playing in the park, riding their bikes and hanging out with their friends. But increasingly, they are turning to their connected devices as a means of passing their time. According to Ofcom, children aged 5-15 are spending around 15 hours a week online. You can bet this number will skyrocket during the next six weeks...
It's not as easy as giving your children a device and 'letting them get on with it' - while technology represents myriad ways for children to engage and learn, there are fresh concerns around the tech they're using and the games they're playing.
The narrative has changed slightly around the conversations parents should be having with their kids. Of course, looking left, right and left again before crossing the road is as important now as it was 10, 20, 50 years ago. As is not talking to strangers in the street. But these are not the only conversations parents need to be having with their children nowadays as technology becomes more mainstream in the household. There is a new "the birds and the bees" conversation in town.
Online gaming - an unknown world
But the conversation around how to stay safe online isn't an easy one to have.
As well as social media, online gaming is a battleground for potential risks and dangers, particularly during the holiday when kids will be angling to spend more time on their PlayStation, Xbox, computer or mobiles. Some studies have revealed that video games may have positive effects on young children, increasing their odds of 'high intellectual functioning' and making them more socially cohesive.
But there are genuine concerns around online gaming which centre on bullying, stranger danger and online fraud.
You don't really know who you're talking to when you connect to the PlayStation Network and enter a 'lobby' of fellow gamers. Sometimes you might, if you join with a group of schoolmates. However, both of these represent clear and present dangers. For the former, conversing with someone online you've never met is risky business as they might not be who they say they are. These gamers could attempt to gain your child's trust, draw sensitive information from them and then use this information to exploit them now or later on in life.
Bullying doesn't stop at the school gates
With regards to bullying, a recent report by charity Ditch the Label showed that over half (57%) of all children surveyed had been bullied in an online game - whether for supposedly having a "low skill level", having their information shared or just generally trolled. That figure makes for startling viewing. 72% said they had reported bullying during an online game - but when you're online, the world can feel a lot lonelier. The help and support often isn't there in the same way as it might be at school.
In this way, bullying has extended outside of the school playground. Bullying victims might have felt safer knowing that the summer holidays were a completely safe place for them - but with the proliferation of online devices (and the ease in which children can access them), there are fewer hiding places for those subject to cyberbullying.
Conversation is key
If you're worried that your son or daughter might be being cyber bullied, you need to talk to them before you do anything else. This is a good chance to get to know what your child is up to when they're playing games, what games they are playing, who they're talking to and what they enjoy/dislike about the experience. Showing interest and having positive conversations about the internet is essential, so that if anything happened online that worried or upset your child, they would feel confident in telling you.
We can't see everything our kids are doing at all times; and it's something that if we tried to police, it would only build up resentment. Similarly, we can't ban the tech our children are using - it's about finding a balance, setting time limits and offering alternative activities to being online are good starting points.
As the summer holidays are well underway, keep talking to your children and maintain that open and honest relationship with them. It'll help them - and you - more than you think.