Keep­ing your kids safe in cy­berspace

Trolls may be lurk­ing around ev­ery cor­ner to ruin your child’s ex­pe­ri­ence of the in­ter­net. Here is a guide to avoid­ing danger.

Central Otago Mirror - - YOUR PA­PER, YOUR PLACE -

For most Ki­wis, the won­der­ful world of the WWW is just a click away. But while the in­ter­net has be­come like an ex­tra limb when it comes to our busi­ness, ed­u­ca­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and entertainment, it can also hold some deeply sin­is­ter se­crets that have the abil­ity to psy­cho­log­i­cally harm our chil­dren.

Trolls bully un­sus­pect­ing peo­ple while they hide un­der the veil of anonymity. Bad peo­ple pre­tend they’re not who they re­ally are. Pornog­ra­phy can ap­pear out of nowhere. And too of­ten we hear sto­ries about vul­ner­a­ble Kiwi kids who’ve been con­fronted with online sit­u­a­tions like these, but haven’t known how to deal with them.

Think about these sce­nar­ios. When a kid from your child’s school posts lies about them on so­cial me­dia, la­belling them ‘sluts’ or worse, they might hide their shame from you be­cause they’re wor­ried they might get in trou­ble. When an­other kid shows them a sex­u­ally-driven video, they might not look away be­cause they don’t want to be la­belled ‘un­cool’. When a seem­ingly kind stranger online gives them at­ten­tion, they might feel flat­tered and start up a re­la­tion­ship that might seem in­no­cent at first but could quickly be­come some­thing else.

The in­ter­net is a won­der­ful thing. But it can also be very danger­ous. Par­ents need to know what their kids are do­ing online so they can ed­u­cate and help pro­tect them. Open and hon­est con­ver­sa­tion might not be that ‘cool’, but it’s es­sen­tial to en­sure your kids re­main safe and happy when they’re online.

‘‘The best way to ap­proach the con­ver­sa­tion is to ask your child about the type of things they see online and the ad­vice they would give to a friend fac­ing online chal­lenges,’’ says Martin Cocker, NetSafe’s Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer. ‘‘Kids of­ten find it eas­ier to dis­cuss things in the third per­son and this is a good way to un­der­stand what they do and how they be­have online. We have more par­ent­ing tips at www.netsafe.org.nz’’.

Don’t be Big Brother and dic­tate ev­ery­thing your kids do; teach them how to use tech­nol­ogy safely and re­spect­fully. En­gage them in open and kind con­ver­sa­tion about what they do online, in a way that doesn’t make them feel like they’re in trou­ble. And if you don’t un­der­stand much about so­cial me­dia yourself, learn. (And Neigh­bourly.co.nz is a safe and easy way to start!)

It’s not just about how they deal with other peo­ple ap­proach­ing them online though; talk to them about how they treat oth­ers. Pro­grammes like At­ti­tude’s Con­nected, de­vel­oped by Voda­fone and The Par­ent­ing Place, teach Kiwi youth to be re­spect­ful to other peo­ple when they’re us­ing tech­nol­ogy.

Most peo­ple own smart­phones these days. The in­ter­net is in­stantly ac­ces­si­ble, and there­fore kids are in­creas­ingly sus­cep­ti­ble to stum­bling across im­ages they shouldn’t or be­ing sub­jected to cy­ber­bul­ly­ing. The more time we take to un­der­stand what our chil­dren are do­ing online, the safer our fam­i­lies will be. And that’s got to be a good thing for our neigh­bour­hood too.

The in­ter­net is a won­der­ful thing. But it can also be very danger­ous.

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