For young people, the internet has become an important source of entertainment and leisure, a means to communicate and form meaningful relationships with others, and a platform for creativity and self expression (www.netsafe.org.nz).
This being said, the internet is like a big city. It makes sense that mums and dads would never leave a child or young person to wander about on their own. It would be easy to imagine them turning a corner and finding themselves in a street where they are not safe.
We can be tempted to throw up our hands and say, “They know everything there is to know about this stuff. It’s a waste of time even trying to learn.”
The thing to remember is that young people may be tech savvy, but they tend to be danger ignorant. They will jump into things and sometimes the results can be less than ideal. It is helpful to think about internet education the same as you would when teaching a child to ride a bike. You start out in the backyard, moving to the driveway and then to the footpath. Then out onto the road, with you riding behind them. You get them a good helmet and some reflectorised things to go on their bike; you tell them about the rules and about your expectations. You know that road safety is a serious business. Hazards on the road become clearer when we jump on our own bike and ride with our kids.
There are many internet offences that young people can get caught up in. These include threats, harassment, blackmail, fraud, objectionable content and grooming, all the way down to things like miscommunications that lead to anger, and then on to physical violence in our community. If your child gets caught up, it is important that we keep our heads. We need to count to ten before we react. We want to be the adults they trust when they go looking for advice.
# Go to www.netsafe.org.nz. If you are not confident with computers, you can print off a copy of the Staying Safe Online booklet. Netsafe is a one-stop shop for anything internet. You can find advice on a huge range of issues including the latest scams and what to do about them.
# Have a chat to your teen about what they are doing online and who they are talking to.
# Set your family rules early. In our family we do not allow computers, Ipods or other internet capable devices in the bedroom. We use them in a place where an adult can see and help if required.
# If you don’t understand it, try it. Take the time to improve your knowledge by actually using the services, tools and apps that your kids use.
# Each device needs its own content filter. Content filters are available for sites such as YouTube, available as apps on Ipods; and you can even purchase a modem that filters everything that comes into the home.
# Remember that a red label on your movie or game means it is restricted.There are penalties for letting underage kids or teens see or play. R13 R16 R18. In New Zealand the fine is up to $3,000 even when you are unaware of the rating.Have a look at the new booklet on the NetSafe site for ways to stay safe on Facebook, YouTube, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Trade Me and Twitter. http://www.netsafe.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/Staying-Safe-Online-NZ.pdf
Originally published in the Star newspaper, Dunedin NZ, 2014. “The Forever Years” would like to thank John Somerfield for agreeing to republish here.