If Facebook was a country, how big would it be? According to Merlyn Horton (www.safeonelineoutreach.com), an expert on internet safety for children, it would be the third largest country in the world. At a parent information session held in Alumni Hall at Chilliwack Senior Secondary (CSS), Horton alerted – and perhaps unintentionally alarmed – parents about this universe in which their children are growing up, of which Facebook is only one country. There are far more dangerous countries in this parallel universe known as the Internet.
This “Session for Involving and Informing Parents” is a regular series sponsored by CSS’s Grade 12 Psychology students.
Horton claims that 98 per cent of youth use technology daily. With the advent of hand-held devices, the majority have phones that function as computers, cameras and video recorders. The old parental rule that the computer stays in a common room in the house is much more challenging to implement these days.
We run into problems with teens and technology because now, normal developmental curiosity, risk taking and the need to belong can all occur outside the family context – sometimes online and sometimes through their constant connection to others via social media. Horton reminded the audience that when she was growing up, boys who were 12 often became deeply interested in National Geographic. The research now apparently indicates that boys begin watching internet pornography at age 11. That’s grade 5. Do you think you can shield your children from it? Kids have always been able to do things behind their parents’ backs. Some parents may forget what it was like to be young. Bullying, name calling, ostracizing, threatening and shaming have often been part of the developmental path towards mature adulthood. What’s different now? The difference is that today, there may be a permanent record of every mean, silly, stupid thing you ever did or thought. And some teens may not realize that what they’re posting or sharing could be considered criminal harassment and lead to charges. Whether it be text, sext, video, email, Instagram or Facebook, Horton maintains there will always be someone smart enough to get behind any privacy screen you think you have erected.
What’s a parent to do? Here are a few suggestions from Horton’s talk:
1. Have values- based conversations with your children; talk about values you expect them to uphold.,
2. Get devices out of your children’s bedrooms
3. Make sure your kids have interests outside of technology, through sports or clubs
4. Accept them, don’t judge their decisions, and help them think make decisions based on values
5. Educate them about healthy sexuality
6. Help them know that pornography cons kids into a distorted picture of what is real
7. Think of privacy settings like seat belts in a car – they can reduce some harm, but they don’t make people bullet-proof
8. Treat devices like the family car, and don’t give it to a child without training and knowing the responsibilities associated with using them
9. Teach caution about revealing any personal information online, even if they think they can trust someone with it
Horton left the audience of parents with some net homework of their own. Reviewing these websites could help you implement her many valuable suggestions: www.commonsense.org; www.sexualityandU.ca; www.teachingsexualhealth.ca and www.NetSmartzkids.org.
Parents, watch for the next advertised forum of “Sessions” sponsored by the psychology students of CSS!
Dr. Robert Lees is the Community Psychologist for the Ministry of Children and Family Development in Chilliwack