Cyber safety is a bit of a buzz word at the moment, with the government offering filters, and issues being brought up in the media which highlight the possible dangers people can come across online. Wher do we draw the line? What do we, as parents, need to do to ensure our children remain safe online, while still allowing them to explore the wonderful potential offered in this global community.
I think it is a difficult area for many parents to monitor as it is outside their comfort zone, while the kids have grown up with the technology and are very comfortable with how to use it.
As a parent, with 3 kids who are into online games and social networking, as well as using the computer for homework – really 🙂 hehehe, I understand the problems many parents face. I have seen with my peers – parents who are not “into” computers and technology stuff, the concerns they have and frustrations when their children are online. How do they know they are being safe? Where does the line get crossed between allowing some sense of privacy and ensuring their safety. I have a few points which I use myself, and would encourage other parents to do, this is not a list set in concrete, and I am sure there are many other points, but these work for me (so far). I know it is probably easier for me in some ways as I have always done this with my kids, it will be harder breaking some habits with older teens.
I know it is difficult for those not wanting to get involved in the whole online life, but think about it, if your child was playing soccer/netball/football/tennis, you would be part of that whole getting them there, picking them up, doing the parent duty etc. It is the same with online play, you have to be involved to ensure your child makes the right decisions and becomes a safe internet user.
I am not an expert, however, I have been dabbling online myself since the mid 1990s in both a social and work related way. I have been involved with social networking, chat etc and have seen how people can react when they know no one can see them. It is interesting talking with friends I have met online and are very aware of the good stuff and the not so good stuff – predators, stalkers, people who say they are something they are not (easy when no one can see you), who have children, and the ways they provide safe access for their kids. There are a few things to keep in mind –
- The computer must be in a central location ie: NOT in a bedroom, so you can see what is going on. Even if you wander past and ask questions about the games etc, or who they are talking to on MSN etc. You don’t have to be watching their every move, but it makes it easier to pick up body language etc.
- Know what sites they visit – some sites like MySpace require members to be over a certain age, so if your child is younger, they may be giving the impression they are older – I know, not as big an issue as underage drinking, but could lead to other issues, but open discussion can avoid later problems.
- Discuss the sites they visit with them , open the communication channels, and if you are up for a challenge, create an account and become their “friend”. My son was so excited when I set up a “Neopets” account.
- Discuss appropriate language, remind them that the person they are talking to on the other end of the computer IS A PERSON. They seem to forget this, and it is so easy for even the shy, well behaved child to make nasty comments online. I know, I have seen it happen, and been blown away by the kids reactions when confronted, they really do forget it is a person they are speaking to.
- Ask about the number of friends they have on mySpace, Facebook etc. Do they really know them, are they real friends or just numbers? I try to make sure the only people on the kids friends list on msn are people they really know, from school etc. Just as you would check out the friends your child may go and have a play afternoon with, to make sure they are safe. One of the funny things was when my son asked how he could block someone on MSN – danger bells rang in my head – “are you being bullyied, what’s going on????” “no mum, these girls in my class keep hassling me, because – I don’t know, they like me….” phew – so we blocked them from his list 🙂
- Remind them, the computer has an off button. If things are uncomfortable, or they are in a situation where there is bullying going on – walk away.
- Make sure they take breaks, time becomes lost when in the online world, some games never end, that is their nature, so it is up to you as a parent to set limits. 1 or 2 hours and they must have a break, go and do something active, not just move to the TV 🙂
I think an openness of communication is the key, it is easier to start that way – my kids know I want to know what they are up to. I do give them privacy, but they earn that, and they reward me by doing amazing things online. I know which sites my son who is 12 is a member of, and the ones where he has claimed to be 14. No biggie, as I know what he is doing on there. My younger son at 10 was not allowed to stretch it 4 years, so we found a site where he and my younger daughter could play online, write their blogs and set up their own groups.
We do need to allow our kids to develop these skills, explore the potential, and be confident and safe users of the technologies, because they will only become more embedded in our everyday lives.
There are many places out there which can offer help to parents struggling to deal with the technology – and hey, if you have got this far you are doing well 🙂
There are a host of other sites out there.
Have fun out there, and stay safe.