A 14-year-old boy shares his thoughts on technology and the potential privacy and security implications of the Internet.
Talking to children and adolescents is not always an easy task. We’ve all been teenagers before, right? When I first approached 14-year-old Xavier to talk about how he interacts with the world online, he was very concerned that I would be seen as just another adult trying to reduce your screen time. And, on top of that, he would have to explain that his thoughts would be used in a blog post that would mark the world fathers day as much as Children’s Day (which is celebrated in some countries today), although we all know that a 14-year-old is no longer a child!
But none of that was a problem. During a video call, I explained to Xavier that this interview is intended to be a kind of conversation starter for parents and their children about Internet use and safety, something of a starting point for discussions on a topic that is often provokes disagreements, if not heated ones. arguments between parents and children.
Is the online world part of the real world?
Despite being only 14 years old, Xavier has already lived in a few countries. Born in Brazil, he moved to Mozambique, then Portugal, and now lives in France. For this reason, while most kids his age have been to perhaps only two schools, Xavier has been through several educational systems and even different languages of instruction. But above all, he has met other children in all these places and has made some friends in all the places where he lived.
This is in part why, Xavier said, social media platforms are the only way he can keep in contact with friends several thousand miles away, and sometimes with their current schoolmates as well. “I also use WhatsApp, direct messages on TikTok and Discord. I am very shy as a person. I’m really not good at texting and I prefer video calls,” she says.
“So you think online life is real life?” She was asking me. “Yes, it is part of my life. I act more like the person I really am,” she admitted. Meanwhile, offline, he says that he is sometimes afraid of what others think of him. “I don’t know why I don’t act like myself more. But I’m working on it.”
A place of (self) discovery
When the pandemic-induced lockdowns began, everyone suddenly had to adjust to being physically separated from their friends and classmates. In fact, homeschooling changed the lives of all children, not only because a laptop became a daily necessity (not accessible to everyone). For the lucky ones, though, screen time became a minor issue as classes, homework and entertainment were confined to a few square feet. For the parents, this was both a blessing and a nightmare.
For children, especially teenagers like Xavier, it may even have become a quiet moment of self-discovery. “Because I would just stay home, spend some of my free time playing video games, watching TV shows. And although it seems very bad, it actually helped me. It made me learn a little more about myself and my personality. While I was stuck in online ‘mode’, I was able to experiment and discover new things.”
For example, Xavier continued, “It helped me get into anime, comics, manga, books, and video games that I didn’t know existed… I used to like the music I heard on the radio, but when I started looking for music myself online, I discovered that I like other types of music like korean pop”.
For Xavier, this reality where all that content is online, where “even our idols are online” is something that parents I may not understand. They forget, he points out, that they had “television and magazines, and now all that is on the internet.”
Children of all generations, explains Xavier, “are just curious and I want to find new things”, although he is aware of the dangers that the Internet has for children. “Unless it’s unsafe or age-inappropriate, parents should consider letting their children confidently explore the online world and ‘discover themselves,’ though not without some supervision. Parents may think some things are shocking because it’s something they’re not used to, like ripped jeans or big boots. It is freedom of expression. People should be able to express themselves.”
video games and apps
Two of Xavier’s favorite games
Most parents will have heard of Roblox, the gaming platform that is also Xavier’s favorite online service. “However, it’s not like you only have one specific video game. Roblox differs from many other platforms in that it is an app that has different games inside, and the games were not created by Roblox, but by real teenagers.” Roblox isn’t just fun, it can also give teens a foundation in coding and 3D modeling, while also helping to teach them the importance of teamwork.
Does that mean you play with other kids? “Yes,” Xavier replied. “There are also many other video games that you can play with friends. One of the games I play, Genshin Impact, is mostly like your own world, and you’re actually exploring it, but sometimes, your friends can join in too.” But who exactly those “friends” are is understandably a parent’s main concern, I told him, hinting in part at the “stranger danger” online and the need to be wary of people kids never met online. real life.
Internet as a study tool
“Some parents may think that children go to the Internet just to waste time and that it doesn’t help them in their studies, but in reality there is so much information that perhaps not even your teachers are giving you enough,” says Xavier. All devices became an almost unlimited source of knowledge, and are accessible to almost anyone, so “even expensive professional calculators can be used on the Internet for free.”
“The Internet is not only a waste of time, it is also a place to learn.” And more than school knowledge, the Internet also has “knowledge that parents may refuse to talk about. There are topics that both parents and children can be too shy to talk about and we can find many resources that make us more open-minded than our parents.” The Internet, Xavier concludes, “gives us much more information than our parents ever had access to.”
How can parents help their children stay safe online?
For Xavier, it is clear that “they are the parents” responsibility to prepare their children for the online world and supervise them online,” emphasizing that he himself still needs parental consent to play games and use apps. but things are not always smooth between the two sides of the dining table. To help fix this, Xavier suggests in his own words these five tricks to help adults deal with their little ones:
- Keep an eye on your child, especially when they first start using the Internet. They may hate him and think you’re the worst person in the world, but for the sake of his own safety, keep an eye on them. Once they are a bit older, consider loosening some boundaries or gradually giving them some freedom.
- Get to know the apps and games your child uses and show them the websites they can use to find information.
- Take time to play with your children, that way you can see what they are doing and you will be doing an activity together. In fact, be a kind of “role model” for them.
- Don’t just tell your kids they can’t use social media: this can only push them to use the sites anyway and worse, ‘sneaking’. Instead, try to understand why and how they use them and explain the risks.
- Set up accounts on the same social networks they use. Like the Kardashians that everyone follows.
The bottom line is: “Try to be there, but also give some freedom. Don’t be mad at us: if you want us to understand something, you have to explain it.”
To go deeper into Xavier’s words (and in case we haven’t stressed this point enough), the key is to establish rapport and keep the lines of communication open with your children. Making sure they use technology responsibly and stay safe online is a collaborative endeavor. You may not be able to monitor their Internet access and habits everywhere and 24/7, so it’s best to equip them with proper knowledge and create an environment where they can ask questions. freely. Listen to them and give them advice, making sure they are also aware of at least the most common threats they face online. All of this will go a long way in ultimately helping them avoid cyber bullying, cleanliness, scams and other dangers that lurk online.
Having grown up at a time when the Internet began to become a vital part of the modern world, I recognize myself in many of Xavier’s words. However, the many services and distractions that are available within the reach of children make it a great challenge for parents and legal guardians to protect their children from harm. If until a few years ago the dangers were in the streets, being safe now also involves online and virtual environments: what they read, what they see, who they talk to.
Ultimately, however, children are growing up with more abilities and an understanding of their future possibilities far beyond what passed through the minds of today’s adult generations. It’s up to us adults to do our part and help them navigate these immense resources. But let’s not forget that to do that, we need to ’embed’ ourselves into these technologies and services to understand how they work. And what is better than learning together with our children?