Sheffield teacher questions why parents are keen to see children as young as nine log into Facebook

It was parent’s evening at my child’s Sheffield school this week which is a night I look forward to as it means I can sit on the other side of the desk and listen to advice, rather than dish it out, writes our Secret Teacher.

Friday, 10th January 2020, 10:32 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 10:45 am
Chinese boy using smart phone in the living room

The five minutes or so that teachers get with the child and their parents during these secondary school evenings is a lovely period of time, and I relish it.

It gives an insight into what our children are like in the classroom – with the message largely being consistent throughout the night, be it good, bad or somewhere in the middle.

Fortunately, my experience was a positive one and I ended up buying a treat rather than having to take the games console away as a sanction – but there was one element of the evening that surprised me a little.

On three appointments with teachers we were given targets for them to improve their work and fulfil their potential – by downloading and using an app.

We welcomed this; there are many brilliant educational apps out there that can make learning much more fun and exciting at home, be it learning an instrument, developing their wider reading or tackling challenging French puzzles.

It’s great to see teachers grasping the opportunity that modern technology offers at the same time as delivering a bit of a boost for the home-school learning experience.

When our kids are teenagers, it’s sort of taken for granted that they’ll have a smart phone or a tablet that they can download these educational apps on.

I’m not so naïve to imagine these take up the majority of their time online, but 20 minutes here and there for a homework is good place to start introducing phones into learning.

More worrying for me, as a parent who also has a younger child at junior school, is news that smart phone usage is increasing at a very fast pace among nine and 10-year-olds.

Half of all kids now have a smart phone by the time they’re ten – a huge increase on only a couple of years ago. When my eldest was ten there were no phones at his party, but when my youngest turned ten it was all about WhatsApp and Tik Tok.

The kids were in a room full of their friends but seemed more interested in talking about it to people who weren’t there, whether they knew them well or not.

Alarmingly, Ofcom referred to 10-year-olds as reaching ‘the age of digital independence,’ which I thought a frightening phrase to attach to people so young.

Are we really at a time when young people are to be trusted going online without guidance by the time they reach double figures?

One in five kids have a social media account by the time they are nine, but I’m far from convinced this is a good idea. I’ve seen too many adults lose their job and their friends because of their actions on Facebook to believe that any good can come of letting a junior school pupil get on there.

I’m trying not to be a party-pooper here, but we clearly have to be careful in how much freedom we are allowing our young people to have online.

The internet is a dangerous place; for every educational app or harmless music video there are potentially harmful chat rooms or inappropriate sexual sites kids can access unless an effective firewall is in place.

Children grow up fast enough and before you know it you’ll be sat at parents’ evening having a chat about GCSEs and how apps can help them to succeed.

But, when they’re half that age, why on earth are parents keen to see their young ones log into Facebook, post videos on Tik Tok and engage in endless and meaningless chats on message groups?

Some parents can’t deal with their children being bored and I’ve seen tablets handed out as a distraction technique at football matches, waiting for siblings to finish a club and even in a theatre.

Digital independence at secondary school is an essential preparation for adult life, but online digital independence in Year 4 is not a step that we, as parents and teachers, should be proud of.