As the new world of blended distance and in-school learning becomes ‘the way it is’, our children are adapting extremely well. One of the more challenging parts if this new normal is getting to grips with digital homework and working together online. That’s why we asked our friend, Barry Lee Cummings from Beat The Cyberbully, to offer some key advice when it comes to monitoring your children’s online behaviour and homework.

Working together is an integral part of school and homework – and technology is making it possible for our children to work together even when they are not in the same class, or in some cases, even in the same country.

The real beauty of the various technology platforms out there means that whatever a young person is working on in class can be taken with them and continued elsewhere. Many of us adults have experienced that ‘flow’ moment where whatever we are working on is all we want to be doing, so taking it with us and carrying on with it allows the best of us to come into our work.

In true form, the positive ability to allow our children to stay connected and carry on their learning outside of school, also provides a negative equivalent. After all, there can’t be one without the other, but being aware of the issues can help prevent or reduce the negative impacts on our children.

We talk at length about the potential issues with channels like Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok as it’s these channels that grab the headlines, and it’s also the perception that this is where predators target their next victim. This is of course true, but we also can’t afford to forget that there are other online destinations that are being turned towards nefarious purposes, ones that you would probably never think of as having the potential to inflict harm.

Let’s talk Google Docs

As parents we need to be aware of how our tween and teenage minds work. It’s only by getting into their head space that we can then understand how a platform can be used for something it was certainly not designed for.

As a parent you may well have glanced over at your child’s device to see what they are doing and seen that Google Docs was open and they were furiously typing away. ‘Fantastic, working very hard’ you think and go back to whatever it was you were doing.

But of course, in the digital age, with parents taking away privileges for the aforementioned ‘usual suspect channels’, children are coming up with work arounds. Google Docs is one of them. It’s a platform that in many cases children will have to have access to, particularly for schoolwork. In fact, I see parents on a variety of forums specifically asking how to lock their children’s devices down, leaving only Google Docs accessible, so that their children can continue to do their schoolwork.

The ‘issue’, for want of a better description, is that whilst they ‘need’ Google docs for their schoolwork, they can also open a new document and invite all their friends as collaborators, and they now have a new platform to communicate and unfortunately to potentially bully one another.

According to Bark, which is a parental control software (admittedly only available in the US at this time) that uses AI to look for potentially negative scenarios unfolding, they have identified more than 60,000 cases of children ganging up on other children in Google Docs.

Cyberbullying by omission is another common occurrence nowadays whereby a new ‘private’ Google Doc is created and the ‘victim’ is deliberately not invited and left out.

Our children think that they can carry out their communications on Google Docs, delete it prior to ending their session, empty their trash folder, and no evidence will remain, but this is a great talking point for us and them. Anything and everything that was said in that specific shared Google Doc could have been screen grabbed or taken a picture of, and therefore evidence of what was said, by whom, is most certainly available.

Keep this at the back of your mind when checking your children’s devices, look a bit deeper than the cursory glance, check their history, check their Google Drive and most importantly, speak to them about the subject matter. Open the communication channels, let them know that you know something about the subject, and that you are there for them if and when things go wrong.

About Beat The CyberBully

Beat The CyberBully is an initiative that aims to increase education and awareness around online safety and digital wellbeing, reputation management, cyber bullying, and positive online, mobile and social media use.

The new app, Beat The CyberBully powered by CoBabble, provides all the latest information, advice and recommendations around cybersafety from Barry Lee Cummings and his experienced team, as well as from therapists and healthcare professionals. You can download it here:

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