A 14-year-old boy shares his thoughts on technology and his perception of Internet privacy and security.
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 in the digital world, he worried that he would see me as an adult more than he was trying to reduce his screen time. And, in addition to that, he would have to explain that his reflections would be used for an article.
Luckily none of that was a problem. During a video call that we made, I explained to Xavier that this interview was intended to function as a trigger that could serve for parents and their children to talk about the use and safety of the Internet, something like a starting point to discuss a topic which often causes disagreements 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 children his age have been to perhaps only two schools, Xavier has been through several educational systems and even with different languages of instruction. But, above all, he has met other children and has made some friends in each of the places where he lived.
Xavier said that social media is the only way he keeps in touch with friends who live several thousand miles away, and sometimes with his current schoolmates as well. “He also uses 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,” he says.
“So you think online life is real life?” He 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 shutdowns 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). However, for those lucky enough to have one, 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 enter worlds like 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 On my own online, I found out that I like other kinds of music like K-pop.”
For Xavier, this reality where all that content is online, where “even our idols are online” is something that parents sometimes fail to understand. They forget that everything they used to have on television or in magazines is now on the Internet”.
Children of all generations, explains Xavier, “are simply curious and want to find new things”, although he is aware of the dangers that the Internet has for children and adolescents. “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 wearing ripped jeans or big boots. It is freedom of expression. People should be able to express themselves.”
Apps and video games
Two of Xavier’s favorite video 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 one app that has different games, and the games were not created by Roblox, but by real teenagers.” Roblox isn’t just fun, it also introduces teens to coding and 3D modeling while reinforcing the importance of teamwork.
Does that mean you play with other kids? “Yes,” Xavier answered. “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 her, 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 in addition to school knowledge, the Internet is also a source of knowledge for certain topics that parents sometimes prefer not to talk about. Touching on certain topics can cause embarrassment or discomfort for both parents and children, but the Internet allows us to 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 “it is the responsibility of parents to prepare their children for the online world and to supervise them”, emphasizing that he himself still needs parental consent to play games and use applications. But things are not always easy 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 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 limits 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.
- Create 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 the most common threats that exist online. All of this will go a long way in helping them avoid cyberbullying, manipulation, scams, and other dangers that lurk in the digital world.
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, I also recognize that 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 what may affect them. If until a few years ago the dangers were in the streets, being safe now also goes through online and virtual environments: what they read, what they see, who they talk to.
Ultimately, 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?