Giving a child their first mobile phone is a big, complicated decision. Parents want to know that they can keep in touch with their children as they become more independent, but might have concerns about granting them unfettered access to the digital world. Ultimately, it’s up to each family to decide when their child is ready for the responsibility that comes with owning their own device. But how do they decide when that time is?
Peer pressure is certainly a factor for many families. According to research by YouGov
, one in 10 six-year-olds owns a smartphone, with the number rising to 50% by the time they turn 10. Children want the same things as their friends, and it can be tough for parents to say no when they see others giving in. There’s also the question of safety; for children who are about to make the move to secondary school, or in families with two working parents, a mobile phone allows them to stay in contact.
That’s where Natterhub comes in - a gated, safe social media platform designed to teach children about being online before they are given their first mobile phone. Our approach is informed not by fear, but a goal of teaching pupils to have empathy for everyone they meet both online and offline, as well as giving them the resilience they need to form relationships and make the most out of the online world.
Each of our 200+ lessons corresponds to one of eight ‘Badges of Honour’, which acts as a marker of a child’s progress, and completing lessons provides power to those badges. Everything we teach is based on real-world experiences, or connected to stories that are already familiar to children. To explore the idea of people hiding behind online avatars we look at ‘goodies and baddies’ in fiction through our ‘Think It’ badge, like the Big Bad Wolf tricking Little Red Riding Hood by wearing Granny’s clothes! Instead of simply lecturing pupils about their eyes going square, in our ‘Balance It’ badge we explain how the blue light from our phones is linked to brain chemicals like serotonin that help us sleep.
We understand that giving children more autonomy with their devices also leaves them more vulnerable, but Natterub is designed to equip pupils to handle anything they may come across online. Not only do we encourage children to recognise when something feels wrong and talk to a trusted adult like a parent or teacher, but we also instil them with a healthy scepticism of the things that they read and interact with through our ‘Question It’ badge.
Natterhub is taking a different, experiential approach to online safety and digital literacy, from our lessons to our ‘family agreement’, which parents and children can sign to establish sensible limits for screen use. Other tools also exist to carry on this process once a child has a device. The BBC Own It App
, for example, contains a keyboard that provides users with advice on everything from negative speech online to mental health issues as they type. However, tools like the app will build on knowledge and skills that children have already developed throughout their primary school years with the help of Natterhub.
We support children in dozens of ways as they learn the skills that will carry them through life. We give them armbands when they learn to swim; put stabilisers on their bike when they learn to cycle; hold their hands as they learn to walk. By using a safe space to learn the genre of social media, to comment, to respond, to praise, to connect and to share their content, Natterhub gives children the chance to practice and fail, build resilience and ultimately thrive online.
All children mature at different rates, and some parents may feel their child is ready for a device sooner than others, but Natterhub can provide every child with the confidence to scroll on their own. By the time they reach Year 6, parents will be able to see their child’s progress as tangible proof that they have the skills and resilience to use their own smartphones and start to take their first independent steps into the digital world.