Bridging the digital gap with tech-smart teens is a balancing act

Students, parents and teachers must work together to set rules on the amount of time spent on smartphones and social media to ensure youngsters are responsible users

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2018, 10:04am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2018, 10:04am

While there is no turning back the clock on how children engage with technology – usually through their smartphones – parents and schools need to work together to promote better understanding of the benefits and risks that technology tools such as social media can involve.

“The use of smartphones and the amount of time spent using social media probably causes more arguments between parents and their children than any other topic,” said Mark Hemphill, head of the Australian International School Hong Kong and one of the panellists discussing “Dealing with digitally savvy teens” at the International Schools Festival, held by the Post on Sep 15, 2018.

Hemphill said one of his prime concerns is the frustration that students feel due to the disconnect of always being connected to the internet outside school, but subject to rules preventing them from using their smartphones while in school. He suggested the problem often lies in a lack of guidance over the use of smartphones outside school.

“We need to find ways for parents, schools and students to work together to bring about a better balance,” said Hemphill.

The use of smartphones and the amount of time spent using social media probably causes more arguments between parents and their children than any other topic
Mark Hemphill, head of the Australian International School Hong Kong

He explained while parents usually view technology as “something extra” to be used to achieve an objective, students see the use of smartphones and technology as their “default” solution.

Moderated by Ginn Fung, education editor at the Post, fellow panellists Dr Dannis Au, directly elected parent governor at the English Schools Foundation, David Baird, head of school, Canadian International School of Hong Kong, and Dr Daniel Churchill, associate professor at the Division of Information and Technology Studies, faculty of education, the University of Hong Kong, agreed that while technology plays a vital role in education, the positive or negative effects of online activities outside school depend on the type of media, the type of use, the amount and extent of use, and the characteristics of the individual child.

With jobs set to become increasingly dependent on the use of technology, the panellists agreed that schools would be failing in their duty if students were not fully prepared and “tech-savvy” to embrace the opportunities they will encounter.

Baird said that in a world where children are “growing up digital”, it’s important to help them learn healthy concepts about digital use and citizenship. He added that positive outcomes could not be expected from issuing bans on the use of social media and other online activities, whether at school or at home. He suggested setting, up as the Canadian International School has done, an “acceptable use” policy, which students themselves help design.

How to help children avoid cyber risks and thrive in an online world

When it comes to preschool and kindergarten children, the panellists were particularly concerned about parents giving their children their smartphones as an emotional pacifier.

They said young children learn best through two-way communication and conversations with their parents and friends. Instead of becoming engaged in arguments over the use of smartphones and social media, Au suggested that parents need to set goals to develop a good relationship with technology in their families.

For instance, parents need to be aware of what their children are doing online, not just the amount of time they spend on it. To set a good example, they also need to be aware of their own online activities. “Parents have an opportunity to teach young children that ‘smartphones are for smart people’,” Au said.