First and foremost know all your child's passwords and make it mandatory
During the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, a popular statement ‘Do you know where your children are?’ was circulated throughout North America. The question stressed the importance of parents knowing where their children were and what they were doing. This statement has taken on a whole new meaning as children push their limits with use of the internet and have changed the way they communicate and interact with others. The change is explosive and the change is scary as the internet has few rules.
The invitation offered by the WRPS HUB program read: Worried about your child being bullied? Ease your fears with a free cyber-bullying presentation, which will focus on the importance of talking to your children about internet safety and establishing online boundaries. The vulnerability of youth online and laws relevant to internet crimes like cyber-bullying will also be discussed. All parents are welcome to attend!
Judging by the disappointing turnout at the cyber-bullying presentation at the C.B. McMurdo School Gym on Tuesday, February 26, 2013 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm there doesn’t appear to be many parents that are concerned about their children and cyber-bullying. There were only about 15 people present and many of those were the organizers.
Startling survey results
Amanda Nixon, SAFFRON Centre Ltd., Sherwood Park was present to create awareness and understanding of the day-to-day issues and dangers facing youth as a result of cyber-bullying. She shared some startling statistics. A local survey was conducted with 16 to 18 year old teens who were reported to spend an average of 5 hours a day online with an average of 282 text messages per day. The average number of Friends on Facebook is 271 with numbers ranging between 45 and 950.
“We need to ask ourselves how did we (as a society) get to this point in time where the interaction of youth and the web has literally gone wild? Through working with youth, SAFFRON has gained an excellent awareness of the many issues that face young people today when engaging online with their computer, webcam, cellphone and other interactive media. Many issues change daily as viral notoriety is instantaneous for anyone, anytime, and anywhere.”
Amanda is a member of SAFFRON's Web Gone Wild project that provides workshops and presentations to anyone who works with children and youth including: all front line workers in both government and not for profits, foster parents, youth organizations as well as all school administration and law enforcement agencies.
She challenged the audience with the question, “Have you ever really looked at YouTube with your children and do you know what is on there for them to see?” She then provided examples.
“Actual footage of sexual assaults happening. Actual footage of fights and beatings. Information about self mutilation and many, many more things that you don’t even want to know about.”
Amanda was very clear about the dangers associated with social media. She gave real examples of how people lie about who they are and what they are doing and can entice youth to meet with them. They can steal a person’s identity and post false information on line. And if too much information is posted on sites such as Facebook, the stalker, with a few steps, can track a person to their home location complete with a map and photograph of the home.
“SAFFRON has recognized a need for extensive education and awareness for Internet and technology issues that are facing children and youth today. New fads and 'flavor of the month' activities catch on like wildfire with lightning speed. New posts, pictures, and videos go viral, worldwide, and overnight. With one click it's out there forever, and the new day brings challenges and often very serious consequences of 'pressing send' that have now become a reality.”
Youth tend to be too relaxed about their boundaries on the internet and unintentionally put themselves at risk. They are talking to people they don’t know on the internet, sharing personal information and pictures and videos online and giving too much information to people they ‘kinda’ know.
Parents need to be in-the-know and work with their child before it’s too late
There are warning signs parents should recognize and talk to their children about. Is someone asking your child if they have their own computer ,ipod or phone that they can send pictures for videos? Are they offering your child bribes, gifts or jobs. Are they giving your child a lot of compliments? Do they claim to be in an emergency situation and need help immediately. Do they try to threaten or intimidate? Do they gradually introduce sexual content? Are they asking your child to send private information, pictures and videos.
Amanda ended her presentation stressing the (sometimes uncomfortable) importance of communicating with youth. 30% of youth say their parents monitor their activities while 80% of parents say they monitor their children. She offered some suggestions. Do not allow cell phones or computers in the bedroom. Have a conversation with your child about your expectations and boundaries before you give them any form of technology. Monitor usage and if something doesn’t seem right, ask. Cover or disable webcams. Charge cell phones in the kitchen overnight. Model safe behaviour for your kids and make sure the technology and games are age appropriate.
There were printed handouts available for parents with advice about how to track and keep involved in their child’s life and social media network. The disclaimer at the end of the sheet read, “At the end of the day, however, kids will catch on and are smart enough to get around safeguards. We, as parents, have to be willing to be there and to be involved if we are to keep them safe and on the right path”.