BitDepth 808 - November 15

Thoughts on how parents might approach managing the Internet use of children.
Child safety online
The website presents cautionary information on web safety in a format that’s designed to hold the attention of younger visitors.

A few weeks ago, I found myself inside the people TV at a quite unaccustomed hour of the morning explaining why parents need to become geeks.
The conversation was occasioned by a troubling story of a young male teacher who was accused of sending nude photos of himself to female students.

This is hardly the first time that young people have been exposed to doubtful material online of local origin. Indeed, the other major story involving children online dealt with a young commentator who decided to vent her concerns about the curfew in an obscenity laced tirade on YouTube.

So parents need to confront a particularly challenging reality. In the good old days of maybe five years ago, a parent only had to worry about inappropriate sites showing up in innocent searches or colourful pop-ups inviting children to view distinctly adult material.

Now children are likely to be engaged with extended conversations with people they have never met on social networks and thinking of using readily available tools for recording video and audio to share their own opinions with the world.

According to Alexa, Facebook is now the most visited site from Trinidad and Tobago. 
In this country alone, statistics ( suggest that as many as 450,000 persons who identify themselves as being from Trinidad and Tobago use the social network, representing 92 per cent of the country’s online users and 62 percent of them are between the ages of 18 and 24.

Even more compelling is a statistic that suggests that 14 percent of that user base is between 13 and 17 years of age. That’s at least 60,000 children officially classified as minors on Facebook and the figure is likely to be much higher since children on the service sometimes pretend to be older than they are.

Another interesting statistic from Alexa suggests that most Trinidad and Tobago users are actively searching for stuff. After Facebook and its runner-up, YouTube, the next four top websites accessed by this country according to Alexa are search engines.
This information suggests that any useful discussion with a child about Internet use should begin with an emphasis on discussing their search interests and monitoring their Facebook use.

No young person that I’ve ever met will welcome the presence of a parent on their Facebook friends list, but it’s necessary to insist, particularly with a minor, that you are able to review what’s being posted to their walls, who they are having regular conversations with and what the composition of their friends list is like.

Youthful insistence on privacy can make parents skittish about friending their children online or allow the siting of home computers away from casual adult observation.
Beyond Facebook, much of what’s suggested for child Internet safety falls under the rubric of common sense and it comes down to having a relationship with your child that allows you to have mutually acceptable accommodations for Internet use and open conversations about how they use the service.

Key points for adult supervision include the following considerations...
Coach children to never give personal information over the Internet.
Review the online photos posted by your children online.
Be aware of the online activities and friends your children are involved in.
Be firm and clear about not allowing an unsupervised face-to-face meeting with an online “friend.”
Review and monitor the time your child spends on the Internet, and at what times of day, balancing access with real world activities and responsibilities.
Become a tech geek, familiarising yourself with computer monitoring tools and site blockers, Facebook privacy settings and the social networks that are popular with your child’s circle of friends.

Maintaining a continuing level of observation and awareness in virtual space is at least as important for a concerned parent as keeping track of what children do in the meat world while they hang out. It’s something that a parent needs to insist on and the only possible alternative should be a complete Internet ban. 

You wouldn’t let your child out of the house with a complete stranger to go to destinations unknown and a careless attitude about what your offspring is doing online amounts to the same thing.
View the television clip here.
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