Do parents know the answers to these questions?
- What are your children posting online?
- How many online “friends” do they have?
- Who are viewing the uploaded photos of them?
- What personal information do they give away on “contest”/survey forms?
Of youths and the internet—the official approach has always focused on positive use of the internet with parental guidance and monitoring.
Early apprehensions at the turn of the millennium about harmful content for the young have evolved into current concerns revolving around youthful adoption of social networking with the concomitant risks of inappropriate contact and conduct. And with the new-found excitement over online shopping comes security alerts.
My personal journey through the digital landscape of the past decade parallels the national one. As a Steering Committee member of the Parents Advisory Group for the Internet (PAGi), my responsibility was to create a “white list” of safe sites for family surfing. This mirrored my charge as a parent of pre-schoolers and pre-teens to engage filtering and monitoring on the home-front blessed with a technologically-forward spouse.
Even as ready as we thought we were for the opening of our door to the virtual world, it took some lessons before our tweens stopped causing computer crashes by opening virus-laced emails from unverified sources. Of course, we also kept reminding them to talk to us about anything online that discomfited them in the wake of a circulating video file showing a finger being sliced off.
As my children found their way around the World Wide Web with safety workshops that I signed them up for as well as with school input, influence was not least from participation with their peers in various schemes. Sadly, one of these involved perpetrating a ruse to trick a schoolmate with a false identity on Facebook. This faux pas created an opportunity for me to reinforce the transference of real-world values of kindness and empathy into behavior in cyberspace.
Being connected to my teens in the crucial years of their budding independence meant that I was their “friend” online and off. On the pretext of comparing the number of Facebook friends we have, I highlight the importance of accepting social network “friends” only if they are real-life friends. The conversation can take its own direction into the meaning of friendship…
Communicating electronically is another avenue to keep in tune with the teenage life of my kids. Play some online games together. Check out one another’s photo albums. Comment on status postings (but exercise discretion here!) My youngest teen was amused by my fretting that her classmate commented “I hate you…” on her post that “Justin Bieber is so ugly”, and assured me that it was teenage protest jargon. And soon after, she outgrew the kick of starting flame wars of several hundred comments within an hour with provocative posts.
My role as a volunteer parent educator for internet safety kept me abreast of the latest research and developments in new media, yet I’m not immune to the latest frenzy of electronic retailing. Besides worrying about overspending on the part of my now young adult offspring (and myself), we have to check in on secure internet transactions.
Invited on the sub-committee for children under the newly-formed Media Literacy Council, my hope is to start with educating the young to create a safe, secure and civil media environment for our society.
This week’s guest writer is Cheryl Ng, a mother of four girls and one of our master trainers for Parenting with Confidence.