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Getting new tech for Christmas? Here’s what you need to know

It’s estimated that this festive season we will spend 21 billion on festive cheer, despite the ravages of Covid-19. A good chunk of that will inevitably be going on new tech – from smartphones to consoles and computers. The big tech companies vie for our attention each year; this year Microsoft is wooing us with its super-high-spec Xbox Series X, while Playstation has unveiled its PS5 to great acclaim (although good luck getting hold of one of those, unless you have a cool 5k to spare).

If you are buying new tech gear for your family this year, particularly for children, make sure you spend some time familiarising yourself with its most important features before Christmas morning, when the excitement will mean that staying safe is forgotten amid the fun. All consoles have safety features that protect younger players, from timers to ID requirements. You can find some really clear and useful guides over at Internet Matters, as well as detailed information on individual apps and games.

Secondly, make sure you gently bring up the kinds of issues that children may encounter – perhaps while playing a game or exploring an app with them, so they don’t feel too lectured. Every game that has an interconnectivity element with other players has some risk, but some pose more risks than others. Video sharing platforms such as Tik Tok are clearly riskier for unwanted attention than playing a game such as Animal Crossing, but there are still things that can go wrong.

What we all want is for our children to be ‘digitally resilient’, as the buzzword goes. To be able to deal with issues they encounter and to know how and where to get help. That starts with knowing who they can talk to if something goes wrong, so they need to know you understand their online worlds and won’t fly off the handle at the first sign of trouble.

As an example, even the currently wildly popular wink-murder-style game Among Us has its issues. Because players are regularly using the chat function to discuss who the imposter is, the chat is a prime focus for tomfoolery and trolling. My next-door neighbour’s daughter, who is eight, was playing the game when someone asked her how old she was and whether she was a girl or a boy. When she refused to answer they replied, ‘well that means you’re a girl and we’re coming to get you’. Silly kids pranking of course, but it was scary for my neighbour’s daughter. Importantly, because she knows Breck’s story and because she’s seen our presentations, she did the right thing – put down the screen and came to tell her parents straight away. After an evening feeling upset and talking over her worries, she is now happily playing the game again – wiser, and with a little more resilience under her belt.

These kinds of encounters create the groundwork for how our children cope with more challenging threats and uncomfortable situations further down the line. So whatever tech you are planning to get for Christmas, remember to put your own groundwork in to create a safe space for your children to come and talk to you if things go awry. It could be the best present you ever give them.

Sarah Smith

Foundation Speaker


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