From problem solving to strategic thinking, online gaming can help skills development.

Gone are the days of space invaders. Everyone from toddlers and teens to parents and grandparents are exploring the rich and diverse virtual worlds of gaming. And, played in moderation, it seems gaming isn’t bad for us either. A decade-long study of 11,000 UK children, published in the British Medical Journal, found that playing video games from as young as five years old did NOT lead to behavioural, attention or emotional problems later in life.

Research suggests video games can be a force for good – improving kids’ spatial awareness and problem-solving skills, as well as boosting their creativity and encouraging collaboration. And their potential applications as educational tools are attracting serious interest from schools. Educators recognise that games create engagement, allowing students to absorb more information, faster.

The open-world gaming phenomenon Minecraft, for example, has no obvious goal other than using 3D blocks to build structures. You can build something in Minecraft just like you would with Lego. Gamers have used it to recreate (in painstaking detail!) everything from the continent of Westeros from Game of Thrones to Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. These games provide kids with opportunities to practice problem-solving, working in teams, as well as honing their spatial awareness.

“”“My son loves games and so do I so sometimes we play together. In a way it is just like going on an adventure together but virtually. He will chat away with me as we decide on where to go and explore, what to open and what we need to do to advance. By being involved with him occasionally in his games I can also see what he is up to, make sure there are no chat rooms linked to the games and he loves that I am interested in what he is doing.” – Hannah

Outside of games consoles, there has also been an explosion in educational apps for smartphones and tablets. These apps enable children to explore and discover with their parents to build crucial numeracy, literacy and creative skills.

If you’ve ever sat down to watch your favourite team or a new movie, only to be told it’s time to go do something else, you’ll have some idea of how tough it can be to be dragged out into the real world in the middle of a gaming session. That’s why agreeing in advance how you’re all going to handle game time is a good idea. You can even make an actual agreement that you can all sign, and refer back to.

Is your child is spending a lot of time gaming? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between healthy enthusiasm and excessive use. But as a general rule, if your child is coping with school, playing sport or other hobbies, has friends, doing their chores, treating you with respect and seems happy and healthy, you probably have the balance about right.
If, however, they seem to put gaming ahead of other aspects of life, and become irritated or anxious when they’re not able to play a game, it might be time to have a chat and set some ground rules before things get out of control.

Here’s Dave from The Parenting Place with some things to look out for if your child is spending a lot of time gaming, with some great tips on encouraging kids to do a range of activities as well as playing games.

Children don’t have to just be consumers of games – they can create them too. By using free programs like Scratch, young people are encouraged to explore creatively and make their own computer games that they can play and share with a global audience. Some schools in NZ are even using Scratch as a way in to discovering careers in the IT world.

As with all technology, games are not the only tool or the only answer. They should be used in moderation, alongside other tools for learning, and with parents or teachers exploring together with the children. Then everyone wins.
If you are worried about time your kids are spending playing games, read our article on setting game time limits

Check out our top game picks for learning and fun.
Do try these at home!

Is your child spending a lot of time gaming? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between healthy enthusiasm and excessive use. But as a general rule, if your child is coping with school, playing sport or other hobbies, has friends, and seems happy and healthy, you probably have the balance about right.

Watch our video with Dave from The Parenting Place recommending a few hints on what to look for your in your kids behaviour if you’re concerned about too much game time.

If, however, they seem to put gaming ahead of other aspects of life, and become irritated or anxious when they’re not able to play a game, it might be time to have a chat and set some ground rules before things get out of control.

Simple ways to keep gaming in check.

  1. Start by setting clear rules. Make an agreement about how many hours per day are allowed, what kinds of games can be played. Perhaps gaming is only allowed after homework and certain chores are done – or agree to go 50/50 on what needs to be done before games can be a reward: some chores, then some games, then homework, then games.
  2. Encourage them to spend time doing other activities – like sports, music, or clubs – to balance out their game time.
  3. Pay attention to how much time your child spends gaming. Is it increasing rapidly? Or interfering with their eating or sleeping?
  4. Recognise any underlying problems. Is your child stressed about something in another area of their life? Sometimes children may ‘escape’ into the world of gaming if they are having problems in their social life.
  5. Keep gaming technology in shared family spaces, rather than bedrooms. That way, they’ll be less tempted to sneak online and play games late into the night.

Here’s a 5 Step Plan for getting the most out of the web for homework

  1. Understand the assignment. What’s the purpose of the task: to showcase your creative skills, or deliver some knowledge, or simply entertain…? How long is the presentation? Can you choose the format? Is this a solo task or a group exercise? Set a 5-minute timer and talk it over.
  2. Make a plan. Before racing off to begin, have a think about how much is involved in the whole project. Plot a timeline (and add some padding). Sketch a storyline, or make a bubble map using MindMeister. Set a time limit. For older kids, try using Trello, and Pomodoro to get the work done.
  3. Gather your data. Simple search is a great place to start, but don’t forget deeper resources like Wherever you look, cross-reference, check and assess – there’s a lot of wonderful stuff out there, and some fantasy, too. Help your kids learn “critical thinking” – or “don’t believe everything you read.” Oh, and one other thing: credit your sources.
  4. Stitch it together: Your kids could use software on mum or dad’s computer to make their magic, but consider drag-and-drop online tools like Prezi and Google Docs – they’re two of many powerful online presentation tools that make it very easy to share your finished product.
  5. Share it. Make the presentation available anywhere and to whichever group you specify, through Google Drive, Box, any other sharing space – or email it to the teacher. Then, get ready to present in person – search YouTube for some great videos about presentation technique!

Remember, the tools might be new, but digital homework isn’t so different from regular old homework – there’s just the potential for procrastination to be supercharged by distraction. Try this 5-Step Plan to getting homework done, and share your experiences in the comments.

You might also be interested in having a conversation with your kids about copyright, see more here.

BYOD Back To School

Read the shopping list, get the right pack of pencils and pens, then stay up half the night applying colourful covers to a bewildering array of books. That was Back To School when we were kids. But with the Government rolling out ultra-fast broadband to schools across New Zealand, it’s time to get ready to switch the pencil case for a laptop.

Over 97% of schools will have ultra-fast broadband capability by some time in 2016, and while almost all schools supply laptops and tablets for use in class, many encourage BYOD – Bring Your Own Device – for the extra engagement a personal device delivers.

So, here’s a bit of guidance on getting the most out of BYOD, your way:

Back To School in Six Easy Steps

  1. Talk to your teacher: as your child’s closest point of contact during the school day, their teacher knows which devices are recommended, and how they’ll be used. Teachers will point you to a list of recommended devices, and the school’s rules and expectations around BYOD.
  2. Ask an expert: start with your school’s recommendation, and shop around by all means – but make sure you’re getting a device with the power and connectivity that your child needs to keep up in class.
  3. Have “the conversation” with your kids: You’ll need to lead the way when it comes to BYOD – setting rules, guiding their usage and making them aware of their responsibilities.
  4. Protect your investment: For a few extra dollars over the base costs of the machine you’ve bought, you can wrap it in a protective case. Let your kids decorate their case themselves – this will give them a sense of ownership, and make it easy to spot their device across a crowded room.
  5. Secure is safe: Make sure your child’s device is locked with a password only they and you know – and make sure they understand how important it is to keep their password secure.
  6. Prepare for BYODH (Bring Your Own Device Home): Having a computer or tablet for school means bringing it home for homework. Set up a digi-family agreement to manage screen time at home, and make sure homework gets done with a bit of play as a reward.

As it says in the NetSafe Kit for Schools, “When a young child enters school, they will have limited practical cyber safety skills. By the time they graduate, we expect them to be ready to fully participate in a digital society. In the intervening years they will learn online safety skills with the assistance of a guide, against a backdrop of reducing levels of protection.”

With your help, BYOD can provide genuine learning opportunities for your children. And with a bit of help from the tips listed here, it can even be fun.

Sharing is caring – so your kid wants to be a YouTuber?

For kids who are avid subscribers of YouTube channels, the topic will almost inevitably come up: “I want to start making and sharing my own videos.” The YouTube community is largely an incredibly creative and awesomely inspiring one; but – yes, just like the real world – there is also a dark side.

So, how do you keep your kids safe from inappropriate criticism and nasty comment threads? And how to you protect their privacy and safety when they’re sharing things they’ve made?

YouTube starter tips:

  1. Be mindful of the age restrictions.It is recommended that children are 13 or over before they start accounts on most social media sites. If your family is younger than this you can set up your own account as a family to ensure you can manage activity until they are old enough.
  2. Always disable comments on videos. There is no filtering or ownership of comments on YouTube. You just never know what will be shared there.
  3. Explain to kids the importance of keeping their personal information private. Make sure they always use a pseudonym and never disclose any details that could be clues to their real identity.
  4. Make sure expectations are set at the beginning Such as what the video will be about, and how long it should be. And get involved in the process! Depending on the age of your kids it can be a great experience to work it out together, with the added benefit of being able to monitor the process.

The Internet is an incredible resource for entertainment and learning, and YouTube can be a real life-changer. Work with your family to make sure the changes are for the better. Start with one simple question: What are your kids’ favourite channels?

Here are some great channels to check out if you have younger kids:

  1. Charli’s Crafty Kitchen – a cooking channel featuring two budding Aussie chefs
  2. Simon’s Cat is an animated series featuring the antics of a cat and his owner.
  3. Jiwi’s Machines is a great channel for budding inventors

Staying Safe Online.
Sexting simply means exchanging images of a sexual nature. It’s a normal part of adolescence to explore relationships – the digital world just offers teenagers another way to investigate this part of growing up.

But young people are so comfortable with documenting their lives online, that they may not always think before they post. They might exchange sexual messages and images as a dare, or as a way of flirting, proving commitment, or even just as a joke. A recent study from the UK and Northern Ireland showed that 22% of teen girls admitted to sending nude or partially nude photo’s, and 15% have sent them to people they have never even met. Source

Often young people can feel pressured into sending images, and they don’t stop to consider the potential consequences. Images can be copied, altered, and made public in a matter of seconds, and the creator can soon lose control.

“”“It’s really important to raise the topic of sexting as part of a wider chat about relationships and sex. It might be embarrassing, but it’s definitely less embarrassing than dealing with private pictures all over the internet.” – Sean Lyons, Netsafe.
Netsafe’s Teen Talking Points.
Remind them to always think before they post – and never to post anything under pressure from others or while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Ask them to be cautious about who they trust. Intimate pictures tend to be shared by couples in a relationship, but what happens if they break up?
Explain that it’s illegal to take or share indecent images of under 18s.
Encourage them not to pass on other people’s sexts, as they may be used to further hurt, harass or bully someone.
Reassure them that they can come to you for help if they do make a mistake. The quicker mistakes are dealt with, the better the chance of minimising the spread of the images.
How to Deal With Sext Regret.
If your teenager has sent an image they regret, the first thing they should do is get in touch with the person they sent it to and ask them to delete it.

If it’s been posted to social media, they should use the site’s ‘report abuse’ feature to ask that the content be removed. Sites like Facebook and Instagram don’t allow nudity anyway. But on less regulated sites, they should report it as ‘indecent imagery of an underage minor’ to have a better chance of getting the content removed.

‘So You Got Naked Online’ is a resource that offers children, young people and parents advice and strategies to support the issues resulting from sexting incidents, download it here.

Read more about protecting your kids from looking at harmful content

Further Advice.
For more information about safe, responsible behaviour online, visit Netsafe.
Talk to YouthLine.
Order a copy of Connected.

What do I do if my child is a target of cyber bullying – or a bully themselves?
Did you know 30% of New Zealand teens said they have been cyber bullied? Source

Bullying was once confined to the playground. In its digital form, cyber bullying can be carried out through social media, TXTs, websites or instant messaging, and can present itself in upsetting or threatening messages, rumours or embarrassing photos or videos posted online.

With 24/7 access to digital channels, the target can often feel there is no escape – which is why it’s really important to let your kids know they can always come to you if they either witness or experience bullying themselves.
7 ways to help your child if they’re being bullied:
Let them share their concerns and what they want to happen.
Take their concerns seriously, while trying to remain calm.
Try not to attribute blame, even if your child has done something you advised them not to.
If the bully is someone at school, talk to a teacher and find out what their anti-bullying policy is.
Remain sensitive to your child’s feelings. So, for instance, don’t indefinitely ban their use of all internet-enabled devices.
Resist the temptation to approach the bully yourself, even if it’s someone you or your child knows.
Make a plan together, for example:
advise them not to reply to the bully.
help them to save emails or TXTs as evidence, take screen shots of websites, and contact their internet or mobile provider.
remove the bully from their friends list, and set their social media profile to private.
use the Report / Block options on social media sites or use Vodafone’s free Blacklist services to block certain numbers from TXTing or calling your child.
For teens, pictures speak louder than words
In a global survey commissioned by Vodafone, nearly half of teens said they’d struggle to find the right words to show empathy for friends experiencing cyberbullying. But, 3 out of 4 of them would use emojis to send a message of support – so we launched #BeStrong emojis to help. Kiwi teens chose the one you see here as a message they’d be willing to share.

Let them know they can download their emoji here. It’s also available through the Vodafone Message+ app on Android and iOS.

At what stage do we take the next step?
Our partners at NetSafe put it as clearly as possible: “Anyone threatening to physically hurt you or damage your property is breaking the law. If you feel like you are in immediate danger call 111 straight away.”
Beyond immediate threats, the Harmful Digital Communications Act outlines new criminal offences designed to help prevent and reduce the impact of such actions. As the NetSafe team says, “If you believe that you are the target of harmful or criminal behaviour online then it is vitally important that you collect evidence of the incident as soon as possible after you discover it. While it may seem like deleting the content is the quickest solution, by doing this you may take away any opportunity to have action carried out by the content host or a law enforcement agency.”

NetSafe is a great place to read more about cyberbullying and online harassment, mobile phone harassment, and help with gathering evidence .

What if your child is the bully?
Young people who have never bullied anyone could be drawn into cyber bullying because they think they are anonymous. They may do or say things they wouldn’t dream of doing face-to-face, because they’re hiding behind a screen. Or they might succumb to peer pressure and join in a conversation on a social media site without thinking of the consequences.

Like all bullies, cyber bullies rely on others to endorse their behaviour, join in or simply not challenge them. So if you think your child could be bullying someone:

Talk to them openly about what they are doing and why it is unacceptable.
Listen to what they say – they may genuinely not understand the effect they are having on someone else or that what they are doing is bullying.
Try and understand the source of the bullying behaviour, but don’t let reasons become excuses.
Tell them that you love them but that their behaviour must change.
Make them aware of the legal details of the Harmful communications act to help them understand that there might be a legal implication from their behaviour.
Vodafone Blacklist helps protect your child from bullying by blocking certain numbers from calling or TXTing their mobile.

BeStrong emoji Show your support and empathy for friends experiencing cyberbullying

They’re growing up fast and it could feel like their digital world is foreign to you. But keep in mind that kids are still doing the same things kids have always done. They’re hanging out with friends and chatting – they’re just doing it online. They probably don’t even see a line between their online and offline worlds – it’s all just a part of life. They might spend their evenings texting or chatting to friends, or they might be watching and uploading videos on YouTube, or downloading the latest tracks from iTunes. Playing on Xbox or Playstation or making the most of free online games on Miniclip could be a big part of their spare time.

At school, their teachers might be using tools like Google Maps, Animoto and Wikipedia to bring lessons to life and they, in turn, might increasingly turn to the internet to help with their homework.

Because adolescence is a common time to start taking risks and exploring new territories, they might begin to rely heavily on their online social networks and choose to explore issues such as sex − including pornography, relationships and body image − on the internet. This exposes them to a huge range of information and opinions – some of it helpful, some of it not so helpful.

They’re keen to have their independence and their digital world becomes more portable – and more private – as they start using mobiles to communicate and find information, but it’s important to let them know your expectations and boundaries.

It’s at this age that they might take on the role of ‘technology expert’ at home (programming the SKY box or helping when the computer screen freezes) but that doesn’t mean that parents can sit back and lose touch with what they’re doing. Even though they feel in control of technology, children of this age are still vulnerable to cyber bullying and Harmful content so keep that conversation flowing.
Age 13 – 14 simple checklist:
Ask them where they are online and who they’re with – you wouldn’t let them go out in the real world without knowing where they’re going, so why let them do it in online?
Teach them how to behave responsibly online (e.g. how to download music legally and respect other online users).
Make sure you set SafeSearch to the right level for your child’s age and maturity – but remember, they might not be 100% effective and they aren’t a substitute for parental supervision.
Remind them that the internet is a public place and that they must be very careful about revealing any personal information online.
Talk to them about their ‘digital footprint’ – explain that any comments or photos they post now could be seen by their teachers, complete strangers or even university admissions tutors and employers in the future. Remind your children that what they put online is permanent, not temporary.
Set some ground rules for their mobile use and explain how they could run up large bills if they sign up for premium rate services, like ringtone or game downloads.
Encourage them to come to you if anything they encounter online worries or upsets them.
Work together to create your own Digi-Family Agreement, with rules you can all agree to.

Top tips for kiwi digi-kids
Walk into the home of any child this age and you might well find them playing FIFA Soccer or Minecraft on their games console, listening to music or texting friends on their mobile. They might be doing some research on Wikipedia or writing an article for a school blog.

Virtual communities and games – like Moshi Monsters, where children can create their own virtual worlds, interact with avatars and, in some cases, buy stuff – are also popular at this age.

Social networking is ubiquitous, and despite minimum age limits of 13, many 8-12 year olds are even accessing mainstream social networking sites like Instagram and Facebook and video-sharing services like YouTube.

This age can be a real turning point when young people are embracing new technologies both at home and at school and it’s a crucial time for parents to help them stay in control of their digital world. Giving out personal information, playing violent games, cyber bullying and meeting strangers online are among the issues that need to be discussed. Now’s the time to talk.
Age 8 – 12 simple checklist:
Agree some limits on what your son or daughter can or can’t do online (e.g. how much time they spend on the internet or games consoles).
Remember that lots of devices now have internet access (e.g. mobiles, games consoles and the iPod Touch) and that many laptops have built-in webcams.
Don’t be pressured into buying your child anything you don’t think they’re old enough for – for example, if you only want them to have a mobile for calling and texting, don’t get them one with internet access.
Make sure you set SafeSearch to the right level for your child’s age and maturity – but remember, they might not be 100% effective and they aren’t a substitute for parental supervision.
Teach them to behave responsibly in the digital world and to respect other members of the online community.
Make it a rule that they give their real age when registering for websites and only play age-appropriate games – minimum age limits are there to help protect them from inappropriate content and interactions.
Remind them that the internet is a public place and that anything they post online creates a digital footprint that lasts forever.
Work together to create your own Digi-Family Agreement, with rules you can all agree to.

Top tips for kiwi digi-kids.
It might be tempting to think that older teens are 100% tech-savvy and dealing with everything the digital world throws at them. It’s likely that they’re happily playing Xbox or Playstation with their friends, managing their busy social life and sharing photos on Facebook, posting self-created videos on YouTube and expressing their opinions on a blog or Twitter.

If they’re into music, they might already have an MP3 collection greater than any album collection you could ever muster and enjoy finding out about new bands through a music app.

As they start thinking about university or finding employment, they might be participating in online activities, like volunteering or mentoring, to enhance their CV or they could be searching job portals for that first rung on the career ladder. And they’re probably starting to buy clothes, books and other things online.

The teenage years are characterised by risk-taking, and technology will be no exception. Some risks include looking at pornography, taking part in violent online games, and exchanging sexts (swapping nude and sexually suggestive images). It’s important to voice your expectations regarding these behaviours as it can have a powerful effect on your teenagers behavior. Keep in mind that while some teens find themselves in trouble online, most navigate these risks well.

It’s clear that, far from leaving them to it, parents need to keep communicating with older teens and strike the right balance. They might want to keep some things to themselves, so respect their privacy; they might want to take sole control of their digital world, so respect their independence; and they’re no doubt becoming resilient enough to deal with some online risks themselves, so let them.
Age 15+ simple checklist:
If your son or daughter asks you to remove the SafeSearch from their computer, think carefully. Do you think they’re mature enough to handle all online content and interactions? Should you just adjust the settings slightly (e.g. to ‘moderate’)?
Take the time to discuss how to behave responsibly online and to respect others (e.g. how to download content from legitimate websites and not to post thoughtless comments).
Explain why it’s important that they are careful with their personal information online as anyone could see it.
Talk to them about the challenges and risks posed by sharing their location (e.g. on Facebook Places or Foursquare) – it may not be wise for everyone to know their physical whereabouts.
Remind them that their digital footprint means that what goes online stays online – use real-life examples like the fact that employers and university admissions tutors often check social networking sites for information about candidates.
Make sure they check with you before buying anything online including apps and music, especially if they want to use your credit card.
Work together to create your own Digi-Family Agreement, with rules you can all agree to.
Reward them. Teenagers value independence, so once they have proven how responsible they can be, let your rules and restrictions loosen up a little. This is not the time to be completely hands off, but you can allow them more freedom and flexibilty as they earn it.