Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Turn On Parental Controls - Do It Now

Do you have pornographic videos next to the TV in your house? How about magazines on the coffee table? 

If this is acceptable in your house, then this blog is not for you.

If your children have access to any device with internet access they are likely to discover pornography quicker than you think. Their curiosity will get the better of them, and they'll continue to seek new and different images and content to explore.

There are many articles written about the effect this has on young minds, and there appear to be two schools of thought;

1. Children need to learn these lessons for themselves - it's part of the parental duty of trust to allow them to discover new things and with the proper parenting they know right from wrong.

2. The internet and search engine providers should block these things.

Rarely do I see an option 3 "Turn On Parental Controls"

For many years both Microsoft and Apple have provided their products with a quick switch to block the worst the internet has to offer (click on either company to see how). There are many applications for mobile devices which serve the same purpose  - and yet they don't get used enough.

Option 1 is naive and unlikely. Think back to your own teenage years and the temptations you were offered. What was the worst thing you could find in the library, or the newsagent, or on video? I'll be blatantly sexist here - and I apologise in advance, but I'd also suggest that boys are more likely than girls to be fascinated by pornography, and more likely to find ways to get it.

This means that Dad probably understands the attraction of porn to a teenager more than Mum which sets up a classic parental divide on whether or not parental controls should be switched on.

The content that can be found online bears no relationship at all to the widely available publications on the shelves of the newsagent.

Option 2 is a symptom of an ever increasing reliance on a 'nanny state' and absolves responsibility. You are responsible for your own children, not Google. If you bring a pornographic magazine into the house, and a child finds it - do you blame the newsagent, the publisher or yourself?

I have four children - from age 3 to 14. We have three computers in the house, a tablet and two smart phones. Parental controls are switched on.

Is it a pain in the neck to feed in the admin password for one time access to sites when the filters get it wrong? Of course. Do the kids ask for it to be turned off? Of course they do. 

Last week my eldest son and I were talking. He explained that he felt I was snooping on him, and didn't trust him because they were turned on. The snooping was by far the biggest issue.

I explained that before parental controls were switched on, then I was doing plenty of 'snooping', which I no longer do. What he does on his computer is private, but with parental controls on, it's also within parameters that help ensure his safety (and that of the other children in the house). 

Think that your child isn't doing it? Or that they are imposing their own limits? Think again - I recently had this conversation with a friend who became curious and asked me to look at their sons computer.

I'm technical enough to get by deleted browsing histories, private browsing limitations and all the typical stuff that teenagers share to try and hide behaviour. So I opened up a hidden directory showing screenshots of the last few months of activity. To say my friend was shocked was an understatement - he called his wife to look, and the parental controls went on immediately.

Their 12 year old son may have been 'exploring' but he was doing it almost exclusively and had found things online that would shock anybody. I think mum and dad were expecting a few topless shots, or even some couples demonstrating how babies are made in creative ways.....not the hardest of hardcore stuff involving lots of people, all bodily functions, animals, dungeons and worse.

If you know someone with tech expertise who you trust, why not ask them to do the same? 

But the chances are you don't - so turn on the controls, and explain why. You're doing it to protect, not snoop - yes, you're likely to get some kick back if they've been enjoying unrestricted browsing for months or years, but you're reducing the risk to your child.

Even better, when you've done so, share this with your friends - and if enough people do then it will be seen as 'normal' instead of 'strict' behaviour.

(For my February 2014 Update on the perils of Twitter - click here)

Friday, 24 May 2013

Why Do People Always Have To Leave?

I've been sat in my local Starbucks getting on with my work for the last hour or so, in truth because I find that a change in scenery often gives me a change in perspective.

Recently I've been pondering what makes certain places so outstanding that they epitomise all the positive aspects of their brand - I wrote a blog a few months ago about a particular McDonalds that could give teamwork lessons to any company in the world.

Like many people I'm a creature of habit, and there are a few Starbucks stores I stop at regularly when I'm travelling. I've noticed an fairly high level of turnover at these, and sometimes feel sad to be losing friends and familiar faces whose company I've grown used to.

Yesterday I found that Lewis, one of the assistant managers here is leaving and taking on a new role in a different company, and I felt sad about that.

But really this is a great thing for Starbucks (and for Lewis). Almost all those who have left have transitioned  to more senior roles in other companies - taking their training, attitude, and ethos with them. 

Which other company wouldn't want to take advantage of this? There are only so many  people that can progress upwards within a company - some will be lost, and what better way to build your brand professionally than by creating demand in the marketplace for those that you've trained.

Good things will always happen to good people. If you demand the best, then you always run the risk of them being poached into other positions by other companies - perhaps this is why some of the most well known and admired brands in the world have such longevity.

I'm out of the way upstairs writing this, and a moment ago one of the guys brought me up a  coffee (the one in the picture above) and a smile. I cannot express how nice it was to have this happen - and how much it was appreciated. 

It's the small things like this that make all the difference - but the key is having the right people in the right roles, no matter what the company, who really do love what they do and go out of their way to make people feel special.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Why Do We Focus On The Negative?

I recently attended a fantastic all day seminar with Penny Ferguson. She drew the attention of all present to our proclivity for focussing on the negative, rather than the positive aspects of our skills and characters. 

I consider myself a highly positive and optimistic person, but she was absolutely right and I've been struggling for a little while to catch myself falling into this behaviour (so I could change it).

Today it happened. 

I was looking through some material from a two year Leadership Development program I graduated from some time ago - and from the back of the file, six cards dropped out onto my lap. Each card had three descriptors on it. At the time we were all given the names of six participants and asked to write down characteristics we believed they displayed (and to be direct, open and honest about it)

These were mine (random order as they lie on my desk right now)

Creative, Inquisitive, High Passion, Committed to CA, Risk Taker, Open To New Ideas, Individual, Arrogant, Friendly, Fun, Frank, Relaxed, Good Sense Of Humour, Good Dresser, Upbeat Disposition, Funny, Intelligent, Energetic.

Guess which of these I fixated on immediately? I tried to look for the upside by searching on Google to see if there were any positive traits associated with arrogance (told you I was optimistic), and when there weren't any I started to think about what I did that made someone write this down. I got so caught up in it that the memory of getting the card two years ago came back, together with how bad I felt at the time.

I never stopped to look at the other things on the list, which is a shame - because I honestly like those things, and feel good that others felt these were my defining traits - and I'm going to work on those strengths in future - not fixate on negative. As Penny said at the time - "Think how much more we could achieve it we focussed on our strengths."

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Common Sense Leadership

Being on vacation gives a lot of time for personal reflection - it's rare to be alone with your thoughts for any great time, and it's a wonderful opportunity to relax and reflect.

I say alone - for me that includes my amazing Wife and our four children, who never fail to provide some reality, perspective and more importantly common sense.

Harriet Beecher Stowe is attributed with saying "Common Sense is seeing things as they are; and doing things as they ought to be" and I wonder if that perspective was what allowed her to be so influential.

In an increasingly politically correct, sound-bite enabled, acronym filled, short attention span world I've noticed that presenters often talk in a way that actually makes no sense. People clap and provide positive feedback, but an hour afterwards would be hard pushed to remember much of the content.

But I think this is about to change.

In the last few months I've noticed that those who inspire me are avoiding the buzzwords and hyperbole in favour of talking common sense. It's more than simply placing things in context, and being direct - it's avoiding being swept up in the mainstream of industry dialog. People who do this are causing me to stop and say "Of course! How did I miss that?"

I'm not alone - a quick survey of my friends and colleagues showed that leaders who talk this way are more likely to have their statements repeated - which means their messages are sinking in.

Common sense can also come from perspective. The person with the best perspective on the planet surely has to be Chris HadfieldIf you're not following him on Twitter, you should be. Inspiration, common sense and wonder all in one place.