Expert view

Hannah Broadbent

Hannah Broadbent is Policy and Research Officer at Childnet International, a non-profit organisation that helps to make the internet a great and safe place for children. She led the development of the Parents’ Guide to Technology for the UK Safer Internet Centre.

Digital devices: Smartphones, games consoles and beyond... 

Hannah Broadbent of Childnet takes a look at some of the digital devices that children and teenagers enjoy and suggests how parents can stay involved.

At Childnet, it’s our mission to work in partnership with others around the world to help make the internet a great and safe place for children. Our Education Team visits schools across the UK every week, so we hear all about the experiences, concerns and questions that children, young people, parents and teachers have when it comes to the digital world.

Children and teenagers are using a wide range of devices to access the internet – not just PCs and laptops but also smartphones, handheld gaming devices, tablets and games consoles – and they are making use of a fantastic range of online services, such as social networking sites and video-sharing websites.

In our work with schools, we hear from many parents who are confused about how their children are getting online and what they are able to do via the ever-increasing range of internet-enabled devices.

Three key sets of devices that seem to cause confusion for parents are smartphones, gaming devices and other internetenabled devices (such as tablets).

Smartphones are mobile phones with internet access. They are capable of a range of functions, including offering on-the-go access to social networking sites, listening to music (which can be done online and offline), playing games, browsing the internet, checking emails, taking photos and videos and watching TV – along with the usual texting and calling.

You can personalise your phone by downloading ‘apps’ that carry out fun and useful functions, from checking train times to caring for a virtual pet. According to Ofcom, the most popular types of apps among young people are for games, social networking and music.

Smartphones are incredibly popular with young people – research has shown that almost half of young people aged 12–15 have a smartphone. Popular brands include BlackBerry, iPhone and Android phones, such as the HTC Sensation.

Children and young people love playing games. In fact, it is often through games that children first start to use technology. According to Ofcom, nearly half of children aged 5–7 have a games console in their bedroom, rising to seven in ten 8 to 15-year-olds.

Today’s games consoles have in-built wireless so they can connect to your home internet or other Wi-Fi hotspots. This enables a wide range of online functions, such as downloading games or ‘expansions’ to existing games, playing with or against other people online (in a multi-player game), viewing films and TV, storing photos and music, browsing the Web and chatting to friends.

Gaming devices include handheld consoles, such as the Nintendo DSi and 3DS and the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP), and other consoles like the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii that are designed to work with a TV.

Other internet-enabled devices, including tablets and media players, can provide young people with fantastic opportunities for entertainment and education.

By connecting to the internet, these devices carry out many functions and can bring a wide range of information to your fingertips, including via apps.

Tablets, such as the iPad, function much like a laptop. They can be used to view websites and social networking sites, check emails, download files, play games, take photos and videos, watch TV and films and listen to music, plus more.

Many portable media players, such as the iPod touch, do much more than simply store and play music. Media players with Wi-Fi connectivity can often be used to browse the internet, play games, watch Web TV, stream online music, make online purchases, and, if they have an in-built camera, take photos and videos. The newest iPod touch even allows you to video call with the FaceTime app.

Childnet has produced a ‘Parents’ Guide to Technology’, which includes downloadable fact sheets about different devices and shopper’s guides. The guide is available on the UK Safer Internet Centre website.

Take action 

1 UNDERSTAND the capabilities of any devices, preferably before your child starts using them (e.g. can they access the Web from their mobile?) and learn how you can support them to be smart and safe when using them. Remember that if a device connects to the internet, online safety rules apply

2 PRINT out the shopper’s guides so you know what questions to ask in store or over the phone when you’re buying a device, such as whether it has internet access and if it’s possible to apply content filters and other Parental Controls to protect younger users

3 TALK with your child about the safe and responsible use of their device and agree a set of family ‘rules’. You might want to consider rules about not meeting up with people they have only met online, how much money they are allowed to spend on apps, what websites it’s OK and not OK to visit, how long they should be using their device for and whether it should be switched off at night