Parenting in the digital age
Statistics show that 98% of schools and 37% of homes in New Zealand have at least one computer, while the percentage of children and young people with their own mobile phone is steadily increasing.
Thousands of children and young people use them safely everyday. It is important to remember that whether used to research a school project, as entertainment, or to keep in touch with friends and family, the Internet and mobile phones are very useful tools.
Like any tool, the Internet and mobile phone can be used safely or in a risky manner. For the responsible parent, it is the risks that continue to cause concern. If the parent is not familiar with the technology themselves and is unsure what level of supervision is required, children and young people end up using mobile phones or the Internet without appropriate adult supervision. It is those children who then are at risk.
Some interesting facts and figures
Did you know that -
- In the USA, the average child and teenager watches about three hours TV per day.
- Also in the USA, the average child spends over six hours in front of computers, TV, watching video and DVDs, and playing video games combined.
- Approximately one in three American 2-7 year olds have a TV in their bedroom.
- Approximately two in three American 8-18 year olds have a TV in their bedroom.
- An Auckland University of Technology study found that TV channels in New Zealand contain an average of 8.02 violent incidents per hour.
- The same study found that 54.8 per cent of all programmes contained violent incidents.
- There is slightly more violence in children's viewing times than in adults'. That includes cartoon animations which contain high levels of violent incidents.
- Children's viewing times contain considerably fewer deaths and inflicted pain except on Sky Movies and Nickelodeon.
- 11 years is the average age for first viewing internet pornography.
- 90 percent of 8-16 year olds have viewed internet pornography, while 80 percent of 15-17 year olds have had multiple viewings.
- Every second, 28, 258 internet viewers around the world are looking at pornography.
- 12 percent of all websites are pornographic.
- 89 percent of young people going into internet chatrooms and social networking sites, such as Facebook, have been sexually solicited.
What is good parenting in this context?
- It is re-assuring to know that some general parenting techniques also apply to Internet and mobile phone safety.
- Keep the communication lines open - by talking and being available for your child you will be able to discuss issues if and when they arise.
- Be realistic - your child may well have greater skills and knowledge with these technologies, and greater access to them.
- Become better educated yourself - by attending a course or a series of parent seminars.
- Spend quality time with your child - sit down with your child when they are using the Internet. Ask them to show you their favourite websites. If they are doing research for a homework project, sit and observe how they search.
- Notice and praise good behaviour - children and teenagers need positive reinforcement. When you see your child help a sibling find a website or help with their first email, recognise and praise that behaviour. Positive reinforcement will only add to your child's self-esteem.
- Be patient - appreciate the good things your child does and encourage them to do the right thing when using the Internet. If problems do arise don't be afraid to seek help.
What are the risks?
Like any tool, the Internet and mobile phones have potential risks. As a parent you need to be aware of these so you can guide your child to use them safely. Some risks of internet and mobile phone use include:
- Isolation - spending too much time on the Internet, at the expense of 'real' interactions and relationships, is not a healthy habit.
- Bullying by other net or mobile phone users - it is possible for your child to be bullied through email or mobile phone texting. Usually this will be by someone the child knows or has given their email address or mobile phone number to while in a chatroom. It is also possible for your child to bully from the safety of the Internet.
- Addiction - the Internet is something that children and young people can easily become addicted to as there are so many things to look at and interact with.
- Stalking - there are undesirable people who try and meet children and young people in cyberspace. They 'stalk' them and befriend them through chatrooms.
- Viewing inappropriate material - there are millions of images on the Internet that are illegal, disturbing and not age appropriate for a child or young person, such as photos of suicide victims, car accident victims, or pornography. There are also websites that explain how to make explosives and drugs or promote extreme religious and political views.
- Illegal activities, such as trading in illegal pornography or hacking.
- Meeting strangers from discussion boards and chatrooms. An initial chatroom meeting could continue by email, then telephone, and end in a face-to-face meeting. The risk is that the stranger they meet could be a predatory and dangerous person.
There are many privacy issues surrounding Internet and mobile phone use.
- As children are very trusting there is the risk they will give their personal details to a stranger who may misuse them.
- If you allow your child free access to your credit card or it is left in a place they know of, it could be used for purchasing items or accessing adult sites on the Internet.
- Web cameras and mobile phones with built-in cameras are another potential risk. It is possible for photos and videos to be taken without the subject being aware. These photos or videos can easily be posted on the Internet and even altered into compromising images such as pornography. Photos/videos that are posted on the Internet can be there forever.
Chatrooms are a popular feature of the Internet. By typing in the website location or address, your child enters a chatroom where they 'speak' with others in realtime conversations. These conversations take place in a public forum with everyone in the chatroom able to see what other participants write.
However, your child could be invited to go into a private chatroom where what is 'said' to your child is not monitored publicly. International groups of paedophiles have been known to establish such chatrooms and then entice children into them.
There are chatrooms geared towards children, teenagers and adults. Some have a moderator who watches over the site to make sure users behave appropriately. Moderators are able to remove people for inappropriate language or behaviour and experienced users ignore those who are behaving offensively. Frequently however, chatrooms are only moderated for particular words.
While many adult chatrooms attempt to limit children's entry, by way of credit card number for example, there are those that do not. It is difficult to tell who's who in a chatroom and, for example, a ten year old boy can turn out to be an adult paedophile.
It is not safe for children to go to adult chatrooms for several reasons including possibly:
- Becoming involved in or reading a sexually charged adult conversation unsuited to their level of maturity.
- Meeting a sexual predator,
- Being invited to visit a violent or pornographic website.
- Because of the nature of the Internet, it's possible to accidentally go to inappropriate websites by making a spelling mistake. There are many pornographic websites that have names similar to regular websites in the hope of 'tricking' people into going to their website.
Teenagers and the Internet
Teenagers like to explore and experiment which can mean taking risks. It is a normal and healthy part of their development, provided the experimentation is not too risky. As a consequence of this stage of their development, they are more likely to engage in risky behaviour online, such as agreeing to meet someone they've met in a chatroom without telling their parents. This is not an uncommon event. Statistics show that quite a high percentage of teenagers have arranged meetings with people they've met over the Internet. Explain this risk to your teenager and encourage them never to arrange a meeting without first discussing it with you.
Parents often give their children mobile phones so they will be "just a phone call away." However, because phones are used away from home, parents have less control over who their children speak to or text, therefore monitoring use is more difficult. It is important to encourage the same behaviour that would be expected when your child uses a landline such as:
- Establish rules or guidelines for using their phone - when and where to use it; who to give their number to and so on.
- Encourage your child to be 'smart' and not respond to a text from a stranger
- Get a 'pay as you go' and not a 'pre-paid' phone. Have the bill sent to you and you will get an itemised phone bill showing who your child has spoken with. Be aware that you risk your child running up a huge bill. See what your mobile phone company can do to help restrict access to certain numbers and services.
- Learn how to send text messages yourself. It's fun, and an easy way to keep in contact with your child when they are out and about without embarrassing them in front of their friends. And remember, mobile phones are a convenient and easy way for parents and children to keep in contact with each other.
For more information
- Internet Safety Group. Provides their NetSafe Kit for Schools with handouts available in both MÄori and English. Order a copy of their pamphlet Keeping kiwi kids safer in cyberspace, the Online rule card and the brochure on Electronic crime. Email: email@example.com or Call: 0508 7233 (NETSAFE)
- Department of Internal Affairs has an Internet Safety Guide for parents and children. To obtain a copy simply email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Ecpat NZ is part of a global network of organisations and individuals working together for the elimination of child prostitution, child pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. It offers ways to protect your children when they are on the Internet.
- Your child's school - ask for their Internet safety policy.
- Your local library - all libraries in New Zealand have Internet safety information including theNetSafe Kit.
- The importance of values
- How TV affects your child
- My child is viewing inappropriate material
- Teenagers and computers
- Tips for parents
- Netsafe - An independent non-profit organisation promoting confident, safe and responsible use of cyberspace.
- www.yahooligans.com/parents - a site provide by Yahoo which provides safe activities for children and Resources for parents and tips on safe surfing.
- Childnet International -a non-profit organisation working to make the Internet a great and safe place for children. Includes resources for children.
- www.chatdanger.com - a website developed by Childnet International that advises on how to perceive and prevent problems that can arise in chatrooms.
Safe sites for children
- Cyberkidz - website for kids to learn about Internet safety.
- Ask Jeeves for Kids - a site maintained by Ask Jeeves, geared towards children. Kids type in a question and the site will direct them where to look for an answer.
- Disney Surfswell - Internet safety tips from Disney, including interactive questions teaching Internet safety. Also includes tips for parents and a glossary of Internet terms.
- Disney Cybersafety - a kids-safe website which includes several interactive comic strips about online safety.
- Yahooligans! - a site maintained by Yahoo geared towards kids.