So it was the internet safety talk to parents and a few of us – maybe 30 from a possible 300 – made it out to the high school theatre. Not an impressive turnout.
Especially once the talk started, it became very clear that none of us dinosaur parents had the first idea what our kids are doing on line and that around every cyber corner one kind of bogie man or another lurked. Yikes.
There was much talk of cyberbullying, digital footprints, grooming and other nasties. Very alarming and somewhat bewildering.
Perhaps the most useful stuff – or at least what isn’t blindingly obviously – follows:
A community police officer stood up and started speaking. “Parental controls and privacy settings are great and you should use them, but the most important thing is that nothing is really private online. In fact, just assume that everyone can see everything and it’ll make a lot of your decisions much easier.”
That’s it in a nutshell. If you – and tell your kids to do this – stop for a minute before pressing the send button and think, everyone I know can see this, do I feel OK about that? That way you’ll avoid sending embarrassing photos, upsetting people or revealing things you perhaps don’t want to.
The other sensible bit of thinking was to keep in mind that the internet is a place not a thing. So if you were letting your child visit a place, say the local shopping centre, you would want to know who she was going with, what she was going to do there, how she was getting there and when she would expect to be back. And if she didn’t follow you rules, it’s likely she wouldn’t be allowed back. Same thing applies – why are you online? What for? Who are you talking too? Where? How long for? And sanctions if rules are broken.
Cyberbullying sounds pretty frightening. And in many cases it is. But the important message for a parent is not to panic and to unravel things in the same way you would if you thought your child was being bullied in real life.
Teach them about CEOP (the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre), an organisation designed to help keep kids safe and deal with instances when it goes wrong. Kind of like Childline for the internet.
Oh and think about where else the internet is. It was easier when it was the family computer in the sitting room, but now it’s on the Wii, the Xbox and smart phones too. Just ask the kids where they go online, you might be surprised.