How to walk the balance between freedom and protection.
One thing that terrifies parents these days is the threats posed to their children through the internet. I believe that as parents we should be entirely vigilant when our children are exposed to the wonderful world that is the Internet. I do think though that we can often take this too far and become so over protective we end up with a situation where predominantly one of two things happen... we either build resentment in our children and force them to rebel and take this outside of our house and out side of our protection or we stunt their education and growth by not allowing them access to similar information to their peers. There are certainly exceptions to this and many communities survive and prosper while limiting access to such mediums however this limiting needs to be a choice of the individual and not something we pressure on our kids.
I was lucky in some ways because while I remember life before our family had a television I am also young enough to have had computer lessons at high school. I learnt and loved computer programing but thats not where my career led me. Although I have had a close relationship with computers and not always a friendly one at that I still have that ability to live without it. Mind you I love the internet because it gives me a medium to contact my friends and family as well as an endless amount of new information... Although I still love the public library best!
I have a knack with hardware, not so much software but I have always been of the belief if you have a tool you should know how it works. One of the reasons my daughter's first two driving lessons didn't even require the key was because I thought it was safest to inform her how a car works first and show her the essentials like where to put the petrol and the water. You would be surprised how many people do not know why the car goes faster when you put your foot on the accelerator pedal.
So I think the most important aspect with children and the internet is firstly what is age appropriate and secondly what is their maturity level realistically. Having a 16 year old girl around the house is a bit different than having a 16 year old boy... now yes I must admit that is a generalisation however there is a stack of scientific evidence that points to the genders being differently wired. Women are a lot more linguistic than men are. If you look into what is said you will find that teenage girls, even with textspeak say a heck of a lot more than teenage boys. This can leave them exposed.
The first thing I did with her was we went through her social network profiles and discussed what information she was making public. A quick reality check on how easy it is to track you down from the information you publish is enough to scare the crap out of most teenagers. I showed her how listing her surname cut the job down to three pieces of information. By listing these three things and having a picture I could walk up to her in public or even at her home and know she was who she is. These days she doesn't list her surname and sometimes not even her first name.
Cleaning up their public information is the first
step to making our teenagers safe. Secondly allowing them access to
the internet when they can be supervised allows our preteens to be
safe. Having an appropriate list of sites for them to visit that are
approved helps, net nanny programs can help BUT you must set the parameters
of these for yourself or you will restrict a massive amount of good
quality information. A friend was having trouble opening one of our
sites and then it occurred to me to ask if they had a NetNanny
type program on their computer. They did and that was the very thing
that was preventing the site loading. In our metatype we list a long
list of terms that will help people find our page when they search
in Google for example. This ease also makes us easy to block. Did
you know that most Netnanny programs have blocks on words
like witchcraft and breasts making it impossible to access health
information or find a local meeting if you are so inclined?
So the steps so far to protecting our children are:
1.Get them to analyse what the publish to assess
For this last one I thought I would share my 4 year olds experience... she is 4 going on 16 for sure. She has sat and watched all the siblings playing with their Facebook stuff, Watched Daddy playing Farkle and decided she wanted to play the dice game too and have a farm. Problem is she is 4 and Facebook rules state 13. So I set up a profile we can all access on the condition that whoever is helping her sits there with her on their lap. At 4 she needs maximum supervision. But do not think at 4 they are not ready for the Internet. There are loads of sites now catering to the Preschooler like http://abc.gov.au/abckids/ where there are loads of games and activities targeted at PlaySchool viewers. They can even access their own Radio targeted straight at little kids where they can choose their own playlists and have fun.
So she has her little farm and its all set up and she gets so bossy about using the computer we have had to make it a reward for good behaviour,. At 4 she has built a network already of family friends and siblings but she is monitored all the time. And she has beaten most of her big brothers at Farkle.
My 14 year old boy is very typical of most 14 nearly 15 year olds and likes to search for hot girls however I told him that he must not inflate his age to 18 because he is not. A certain level of honesty must be employed on the internet as the ethics of such anonymous communication must include treating others how we would like to be treated. We do not want to be lied to by others. In being honest though you must also encourage them to know their boundaries and to know when the best answer is I would rather not say, thankyou
So the key is to be vigilant but not hysterical, to let them have a bit of freedom thats age and maturity level appropriate while providing the education and the tools to protect themselves without wrapping them up in cotton wool and then just cross your fingers they will be okay. The reality of society these days is that technology is moving and advancing so quickly that most people will not be able to keep up. Lets face it even legislation and the law can't keep up so we have to empower our children to cope and excell at the technological advances.
And then we need to remember they are children and still need to have fun but if the Internet is no longer fun, due to bullying or other means then we must question its validity in their lives. When the sources of fun become tools of abuse then its time to put a stop to things. This may not mean withdrawing Internet privledges but it does mean a lot of background education and schools involvement. Recently my daughter was online and her brother is on her friends list. A post went through Facebook that was then responded to by another friend not on her list. This was responded to by a third person and a fourth and within 5 minutes the comments had decended into what I explained to them amounted to Cyber Bullying. The thing was that at 12 and 13 they were not really aware that was what they were doing. Having been educated now and had things pointed out I know that some of them at least will not fall into that trap again. Some schools these days will expell students for participating in such conversations.
And that brings me to the last lesson. Know this if nothing else... You never know who may be watching! Whether it is the teachers at school keeping tabs on the children or your workmates at work there is a great big mess waiting for you if you cross those public and private boundaries. You would not be the first that has been fired because someone posted some pictures of a party you attended on the weekend. It is the same for our children.
So have fun surfing and get involved with what your children are doing online and see how much fun you can have too. And how much time you can waste!
An organization that I am happy to support is Autism SA. I have many family members and friends who have Autism spectrum disorders and other such disorders and when I found out about this event I though how completely appropriate. Click on the link and register if you are in Australia as it is happening all round the country. http://drawtism.com.au
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© July 2009 by Louise O'Brien
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