Most of us will be familiar with Google Docs in some way shape or form.

It’s Google’s free web based application in which documents and spreadsheets can be created, edited and stored online. Quite frankly it’s awesome, because it has an auto save feature (which is great for those of us who frequently forget to hit save), you can share a document meaning you can then collaborate on it, making it perfect for group projects, assignments and more.

Herein is the challenge, the “and more” bit, because as we know our kids are super savvy, they think and apply the technology in their lives in ways that their parents would never think of. I love it, and also kinda think they’re evil geniuses who we need to watch more carefully…. because they have got the jump on us.

So, what am I talking about?? Ok, here’s what’s happening.

Kids are using Google Docs as a pseudo social media app. A document can become a hub of communication for anyone who is invited to join the conversation.

A Google Doc is essentially a virtual piece of paper, you share it with a friend or two or more and then they can also write on the piece of paper. You can invite as many people as you want to write on the piece of paper. Each person has an avatar and a colour and so you can see who is writing what. It’s pretty easy to see who is chatting in the doc and of course it’s all happening in real time – our kids like immediacy – who am I kidding, so do I!

At home, you might think your child is tapping away at their keyboard, working on a document (because you’ve strolled past them and it looks like a word doc so all’s good) but they’re in fact chatting away with all and sundry and are not doing anything that even slightly resembles homework.

At school, kids are also chatting in Google Docs. Schools most often block access to social media platforms, and various websites, with a firewall and filters. Our kids are very aware of this, and they also know that access to educational platforms don’t tend to be blocked. They can start a chat during class time and then this can be continued once home and can continue on for as long as they like.

Ok, so they’ve figured out a way to chat during class time and to make it look like they’re working on a document to the adults in their lives. So, if they’re doing this in Google Docs, what else can they do and share here?

Honestly the options are limitless. You can embed videos, images and memes, comment and chat, share stories and jokes, and more. If an item offends, or if they change their mind about sharing it, they can easily delete it.

In the worst instances this can be a place where cyber bullying can be rife. It’s an easy place to write mean and nasty comments, share hurtful jokes/memes and content designed to bully an individual or a group.

If you’ve seen the movie Mean Girls, you’ll know what a burn book is. For those who haven’t, it’s a book, or in this day and age, a place online, for you to share all those mean, hateful, bitchy insults about the ones you hate. A victim/s is chosen, a page is created, and then likeminded contributors are invited to join in the slagging off.

Just stop and imagine a place where groups of kids are invited to slag off others – bullying is a whole other level for kids in the digital age.

Google Docs can be accessed on any device that connects to the internet.

Anywhere. Anytime. And it’s so easy for kids as it’s hidden in plain sight.

What can you do now that you know about this?

First off, see if your kids use Google Docs, either at home or at school. If they do, then there is the potential that they could be involved in the pseudo social media wall that is Google Docs. That doesn't mean that they are engaging in anything bad, most kids aren’t creating or contributing to burn books, and bullying people, but they would be tempted to goof off at times when they should be doing other things, because what kid or even adult, doesn't like a little distraction from what we’re supposed to be doing sometimes. As always these are learning opportunities. Kids will goof off, and connecting with peers is so important especially in the teenage years. So, it’s all about what they say and who they’re saying it to and when.

Your awareness on this is half the battle, the other half is to have a conversation with your child about how to be responsible online.

Check out our resources to help you navigate your child’s online experience and if you think your child is either being bullied online or is the cyberbully, please don’t wait to act.

Approximately one in five young people under 18 (20%) reported experiencing online bullying in any one year. Approximately one in every four Year 4 to Year 9 Australian students (27%) reported being bullied every few weeks or more often (considered to be frequent).

We all need to be better at being better online. It starts with us.

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