New research from NortonLifeLock, has revealed that technology dependency for working and learning during the pandemic hit parents hard. Parents were caught off guard with neither the time nor the tech to give kids safe access to online learning. According to ‘Pandemic Parenting’ – a study of 5,000 parents across the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Netherlands, two thirds (70%) of British parents, whose children were at home during the lockdown, affected by school closures said their child’s school assumed that tech for online studying would be available at home. But technology, such as online-connected laptops and tablets, was not readily available for all household members. Two in five parents in the UK (45%) had to buy a new device for their child during lockdown.
“This is important research, as it demonstrates the huge changes in our digital behaviour that lockdown has caused,” commented Professor Robert Winston, medical doctor, scientist, professor, and TV presenter of BBC documentary ‘Child of our Time’. “Families have faced significant challenges: the constraints that come with working from home; the pressure on access to digital devices; and above all, concerns over kids’ safety and mental wellbeing as they spend more time online.”
With many facing a squeeze on household income or financial uncertainty, purchasing new devices was not an option for all. Notably, more than a third (34%) of parents in the UK, whose children were at home during the lockdown, said they could not afford to buy their child the technology required for online education. When compared to other European countries this was the highest reported figure (28% in Italy, 26% in Germany, 25% in France, 24% in the Netherlands).
“The risks and impact of digital dependency during lockdown are exacerbated for disadvantaged families,” commented Professor Winston. “Hard-pressed parents may have less money to spend on devices for their children for home-schooling, and on protection. They’re also likely to have less time to supervise their kids’ online behaviour.”
Looking to strike a balance between work and family life meant British parents had some tough decisions to make. Half of employed parents working from home in the UK had to re-arrange their working pattern to look after their child (50%), three in five took calls with their kids on screen (61%), almost half had to work late at night to make up time whilst their children were asleep (49%). Despite employer policies often prohibiting device sharing, over a third of British parents had to give up a device so their child could use it for school (38%). In UK households with more than one child, two in five parents (44%) had to choose which child had access to a device for learning or play.
Digital Day Care
Whilst tech dependency added many pressures, tech also became a virtual babysitter for parents short on time. Eight in ten British parents working from home (79%) used tech to distract their child whilst they were busy, and almost half of all UK parents (47%) allowed their child online time to get a break.
With so many plates spinning, it is no surprise that more than two in five parents in the UK (45%) felt unable to control their child’s device use and half (51%) admitted they don’t always know what their child is doing online. With more unsupervised time spent on new and old devices parents should be mindful of the growth in Cyber Safety threats such as device hacking, location tracking and online predators. “This is why agreeing on ‘house rules’ is a helpful first step that allows parents to establish healthy screen time habits that kids would benefit from as they grow up using technology for both learning and fun,” said Steve Wilson, UK & Ireland Director at NortonLifeLock. “However, it’s important that rules around device use are set as part of a broader dialogue about online safety, not just as a measure that aims to limit children’s screen time.”
This is particularly important as the study found that most parents in the UK (73%) felt concerned about their child’s exposure to online risks such as online grooming, cyber-bulling and downloading unvetted apps. Three quarters of British parents (74%) had experienced an issue in the past – the highest compared with other countries across Europe (70% in Italy, 67% in Germany, 67% in the Netherlands, 62% in France). In the UK, more than one in ten kids shared family credit card or bank details online (14%), downloaded a virus (18%), had an account hacked (16%), bought something without permission (21%), received or responded to a phishing email (19%) or been bullied on social media (18%). 33% of parents said their child has read fake news online and more than one in five (24%) had seen their children view content they shouldn’t.
“The long-term effects of lockdown are yet to be understood. But concerns about these risks have intensified with children stuck at home, away from friends, and spending more time online at an impressionable stage of their development,” commented Professor Robert Winston. “With children already missing out on social contact, being handed a tablet for long, unsupervised, periods is not ideal. But it’s sometimes unavoidable. In the face of this, it’s important that parents have open conversations with kids about online risks; ensure suitable protection is in place; and they prioritise face-to-face socialisation whenever possible.”
Optimistic About Online Learning?
After having spent so long away from school, children and parents have seen the benefits of the traditional classroom with new clarity. Over half (53%) of parents with home schooled children in the UK said they struggled to maintain a routine for learning/schoolwork during lockdown. Some 56% of British parents with home schooled children said they couldn’t wait for their children to go back to school and 65% said they have a new appreciation for the work teachers do.
But despite concerns around lost classroom time, parents became optimistic about how their kids used tech for learning. For the UK, seven in ten parents with home schooled children (69%) agreed it would have been near impossible to home school without tech. Over half of parents in the UK said online learning has increased their child’s interest in schoolwork (54%). Additionally, three quarters of British parents with home schooled children (76%) agreed that technology had allowed their child to keep learning through lockdown.
With half of parents in the UK (54%) hoping their child will keep using online learning resources to help their education, ensuring they know how to do so safely is critical. NortonLifeLock has focused on helping safeguard families from online threats as children spend more time online for school and play amid the pandemic. For more information and tips, please visit the NortonLifeLock blog at www.nortonlifelock.com/blogs and find more information on products such as Norton Family on https://uk.norton.com/.
NortonLifeLock’s Tips to Help Keep Kids Safer Online:
- Establish, and stick to, house rules and guidelines. These can include setting limits to screen time, the type of content a child accesses online through their mobiles and other devices or the appropriate tone of language to use online. Many of these rules can be reinforced with family focused Cyber Safety technology. Rules should vary depending on your children’s age, maturity and understanding of the risks they could face online.
- Encourage your children to go online in communal spaces. It will help put your mind at ease about what they are doing. You don’t want to be constantly looking over their shoulder but equally you don’t want them hiding away. In a communal space you’ll be able to observe if they become distressed, and they’ll know they can come to you if they are confused, frightened or concerned. Solutions like Norton Family will also help you preview browsing history if there is something you’re concerned about.
- Make sure they know, no question is a stupid question. Talk about mobile use, gaming, and experiences online. Kids will be curious but will also get embarrassed or scared by some online experiences. Ensure you maintain an open and ongoing conversation with your children about what they see, learn and experience online.
- Encourage kids to think before they click. Whether they’re looking at online video sites, receiving an unknown link in an email or even browsing the web, remind your child not to click on links which may take them to dangerous or inappropriate sites. Clicking unknown links is a common way people get viruses or reveal private and valuable information about themselves.
- Place controls on harmful or adult content. From websites to apps, games and online communities, your kids have access to a lot of content that can affect them both positively and negatively. Using smart family security and parental control features, as well as the built-in security settings in your browsers, can help the whole family stay safer online.
- Discuss the risks of posting and sharing private information. Encourage your children to think about the videos, photographs and information they share through mobiles, especially on social media. Whilst trading their personal information for a game might seem like a good deal today, they might regret it when they are older.
- Disable pre-filled payment details. Inadvertent purchases by your kids can be challenging to find and recoup. Ensure your apps and devices ask for extra details to authorise payments and check your balances regularly to ensure you catch any unfamiliar looking payments.
- Child proof shared devices. Some kids might have their own devices, but many will share with the family, or with siblings of different ages. Safeguard your kids from content that might not be age appropriate, and from inadvertent purchases by using kids’ versions of mainstream apps, deleting cached login details, closing browser windows, and deleting page history.
- Be a good role model. Children are likely to imitate their parents’ and adult’s behaviour, so lead by example. Set your own healthy practices around screen time and online safety.
- Use a robust and trusted security software solution like Norton 360, which includes parental controls. Family focused solutions like Norton Family help families explore our connected world more safely. Technology can help reinforce the rules and limits discussed in the previous tips. This gives parents peace of mind and lets kids can grow in confidence and independence, without compromising their online safety.
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