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Saturday, 29-Apr-2017 19:14:49 EDT
Friending Kids Online A Parental Must
by SHEILA QUINN
FAMILY

Would you give your child the keys to your car with a prepaid credit card for unlimited gas to go wherever and whenever they wanted? Probably not. Then why would any parent allow that same child to go online wherever and whenever without adult approval, consent, and / or supervision? Children rule today's households – it's time to reclaim the throne.

TIP: place computers in a high-traffic area of your home so you can monitor your child's Internet use

I've shared my strong and concerned views before with my inner circle, and will do so with you in the public now.

This one is about children / teenagers with online identities and the dangers that can so easily come with a freedom too widespread and too infrequently monitored. To those parents and friends who may wonder, "What's the worst that can happen?" I would humbly note the Amanda Todd tragedy in Vancouver, BC early October 2012.

I'm considered a strict parent in my household about how I feel towards under-aged online identities. I've certainly felt the pressure and criticism from our children despite hours of conversation about the dangers of cyberland. I am totally uncool but at the end of the day, I can guarantee that our kids are neither bullied nor do they bully – at least online.

It's a tough one, to be so uncool, but I'd rather deal with that than face a horrific tragedy down the road. I experience moments of awkwardness with my own friends too whose children of all ages enjoy the online privileges ours so desperately crave but I don't think that I want to be that cool if it means that my children are placed in jeopardy.

What I've observed on social media walls from (pre)teens that I personally know – which provides limited windows to their friends – has been utterly uncomfortable. These future 'adults' generally can't spell, don't have a clue about grammar, and their content is far from age-appropriate for the most part. 13yr-old girls upload 'sexy' profile photos that make them look closer to being 20yrs of age. Far worse, most of their profiles, friends lists, walls, and personal information are set completely to public. Since I work online through my various endeavours, I can pinpoint exactly where and how these can become potential risks to children and I alert their parents to the best of my ability if I know them personally... But where are the other parents?

And it's not just online activity that should be a concern for parents... Kids today have their own cellular phones which grant further access to a greater digital world 24hrs per day by switching their devices to 'wi-fi' (this is where your bill for 'data usage' skyrockets!). They download apps with a freedom far too extensive for them, Facebook or Twitter or post on any other 'social media', text, and email (which is almost obsolete in this generation) like it's their only lifeline. To them, nothing else seems to matter socially, and they hardly interact face-to-face even amongst their own peers. Classic sleepovers of yesteryear are gone – yes, gone! Standard ones today are mere tech gatherings where the coolest gadgets and apps are shared. It's almost as if 'the world' knows more about them than those who love them...

Don't get me started on 'blocking' – a feature in social media that they are experts on!

Here's a recent story from our household.

We discovered last weekend that one of our daughters opened a Facebook account behind our backs during a sleepover. She knew the family rules but still crumbled to the pressure from her peers. She crumbled over Facebook, Facebook for goodness sakes! What happens when it's about sex, drinking, then drugs, or dangerous and even criminal activity? So we decided to spot check all of our children's devices. We were astonished to uncover that beyond their Hotmail accounts that we had set up for them and monitor, they also created for themselves YouTube accounts, Gmail / Google+ accounts, Instagram accounts, Skype accounts, etc. without our knowledge and consent. One of our daughters even had a 'love' chat room app on her phone...

We were hurt and disappointed. And there was an element of betrayal there too.

They were all reprimanded immediately. Everything got taken away from them – all accounts were deleted, computer use in their rooms is not allowed 'for homework' anymore, and cel phone activity is banned the second they come in from school until they leave for school the next morning.

We had trusted them to a point. We had given them age-appropriate freedom in small doses. Now they have to earn it all back.

All of it.

Do you have your child(ren)'s passwords to their phone(s) and all of their online accounts? What are their privacy settings? Do you know who their digital friends are? Are you aware how much time they spend in digital worlds?

One more question. Whose responsibility is it to keep your child(ren) safe, informed, and educated about online activities?

The teachers?

The caregivers?

The social workers?

Doctors?

Or you, the parent?

Children are inquisitive and the progression to adulthood requires healthy doses of teen rebellion. These are the stepping stones towards self-definition and differentiation. To deny this truth is to deny reality – not to mention the development of their personal histories. I call it young-adults-in-training in our household and try to remember that we were teens once too. What kids don't understand today is that what goes online, stays online forever. It's not just cyberbullying that we need to talk about. It's not just about remembering to wear a pink shirt several times per year... Today's kids are building identities online that cannot be erased once they've outgrown this phase. And they just don't get it. Pushing boundaries? Yes, teens certainly have and will continue to do so as they always have. We accept that that's the nature of the beast... But to put it simply, if an easily-accessible, permanent, and global record of every stupid thing you said and did as a teen existed, would you readily enable your child(ren) to make one for themselves?

I can't imagine what kids do in households where important conversations are either infrequent or don't take place. We – mostly 'I' – talk to our kids on a regular basis about all of this. We've talked about Amanda Todd's tragedy, about online identity fraud, stalking, suicide, self injury which usually also includes eating disorders, and online predators amongst other things.

Positive online and other such adult activities come in due time, I've promised... We are honest about everything in our family discussions and it's not ever a one-time conversation – these are repeated every couple of months. They are also known to the children as the infamous '2-hour talks' (which would be shorter if they didn't interrupt with their silly giggles so often!).

Still, our daughter ignored all of this and went behind our backs... blocked us from her Facebook account so that we would never know.

Why?

Because kids are not mature enough to understand fully what's at stake. That's right – they're kids, kids playing with fire in an online world better suited for informed adults. Let me ask, would you give your child the keys to your car with a prepaid credit card for unlimited gas to go wherever and whenever they wanted? Probably not. Then why would any parent allow that same child to go online wherever and whenever without adult approval, consent, and / or supervision?

As good parents, we may all be striving to street-proof this emerging generation, but we need to be mindful of digitally proofing them too. There is a great journey ahead for all of us while this continues to remain uncharted territory for modern-day parents.

Children rule today's households, this is generally true.

It's time we reclaimed the throne.

We will make mistakes – sure – but to be the 'best friend' you can be to your child through to adulthood... please remember to be their parent first.

Sheila Quinn
©2012 SayItCanada.ca. All rights reserved.

HOW CAN KIDS AND TEENS STAY SAFE ONLINE
GOVERNMENT OF ALBERTA WEBSITE

  • Never give out your real name, age, address, phone number or any other information like passwords or the location of your school to a stranger online.
  • Use a nickname and never tell people your real name.
  • Pick a password that is hard for others to guess and never share it with anyone except your parents.
  • Remember that people you meet online may not be who they say they are.
  • If someone you don't know approaches you or makes you feel uncomfortable online, tell your parents and do not respond to them.
  • Always check with your parents before entering a chat room and tell your parents about your online friends.
  • Don't send a photo of yourself online and if someone asks for a photo of you or sends you a photo, notify your parents or a teacher.
  • Never agree to meet someone in person that you have met online. Tell your parents if someone has asked to meet you. If your parents agree that you can meet someone you have met online, make sure you arrange a meeting in public with your parents there.
  • Do not open email attachments from unknown senders.
  • Never respond to spam or junk mail.
  • Remember that nothing you write on the web or email is completely private.
  • Think carefully about where you put your webcam -- do not put it in a location that would give away personal information about you or your family.
  • Always unplug or cover your webcam when it is not in use.
  • Don't enter contests, or buy or accept gifts without first discussing it with your parents.

HOW CAN PARENTS HELP PROTECT THEIR KIDS ONLINE
GOVERNMENT OF ALBERTA WEBSITE

  • Place computers in a high-traffic area of your home so you can monitor your child's Internet use.
  • Teach children how to exit a website quickly and that they should discuss things they see or read that make them uncomfortable.
  • Get to know your child's online friends like you would any other friend.
  • Remind your kids to behave online as they would in public. Explain to them they should never write anything in an email that they would not want the world to read.
  • Set up rules for your child. Agree when and for how long they can engage in online activity, as well as what sites they are allowed to visit.
  • Maintain open lines of communication with your child regarding their Internet use. Ask them where they go and what they do online, and get them to show you.
  • Get to know chat room and web-related slang. Ask your child to explain it to you.
  • Check to make sure your child's instant messaging program is set up so no one can speak to him/her without permission.
  • Remind your children that everything they read online may not be true. An offer that seems "too good to be true" likely is.
  • Encourage your children to use the telephone to communicate with friends.
  • Pay attention to your child's behaviour.
  • Assist with the creation of your child's online profiles.
  • When signing up for games, provide a family or parental email address rather than your child's.
  • Find out what computer safeguards are used at your child's school, public library or friends' houses. Consider all the places where your child could go online.
  • Set an example for your children by following the rules you set out for them. Be careful of what personal information you give out and what files you download.

Sheila Quinn
©2012 SayItCanada.ca. All rights reserved.

COMMENTS

On SATURDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2012 at 10:34am EST from MISSISSAGUA, ON

Tracy Graham-Urwin – Bullying shouldn't have to be dealt with just by teachers or people in authority... it should start at home with the PARENTS!! It's YOUR job as a parent to educate your kids on bullying and being the victim of a bully. Teach your kids to not just stand by and watch others get bullied.

I'm tired of hearing everyone ask why the teachers didn't know or do anything about it. How about as a parent YOU do something about it!! Parents need to get involved in THEIR kids lives, monitor what their kids are saying on social media and what's being said by their friends. Stop being lazy parents, set an example and start taking responsibility for the lives you brought into this world and start communicating with your kids face to face. Stop passing the buck!!

Great job with this article... it's nice to see others speaking out.

On SATURDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2012 at 10:51am EST from 100 MILE HOUSE, BC

Michelle Mah – Great article! Will definitely keep this one in mind. I have a feeling this issue will come up in a few short years. Thanks!

On SATURDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2012 at 8:57pm EST from VANCOUVER, BC

YAQ – I printed this article for my son and once he realized what it was about, he lost interest. He's really wanting a cell phone and a Facebook account. He's 12. I don't think so. It occurred to me though, that during his privileged VPL (Vancouver Public Library) computer access, he may be doing more than playing "computer games". I'll have to keep a closer eye on him for this. I wish there was a way I could monitor his VPL account through his pin code.

Actually, I didn't even realize he "wanted" a Facebook account. News to me. He's been nagging me about a cell phone for quite some time since, "Everyone else in my [gr. 5] class has one." – and they do... or did (don't care to know what the 7th Graders have)! I suppose I can think up situations when a cell phone would have been handy when I was young but, of course, my answer has yet to change. If he asks me again, I'll just hand him your article, once again.

On MONDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2012 at 10:57am EST from NEWMARKET, ON

Christina Holdsworth – Right now I am trying to teach my 10mos-old to stay out of the cupboards!!! I lock up the ones that have dangerous things in them such as cleaners and garbage. But I am trying to set boundaries with the 'Tupperware' cupboard. It is extremely tedious. He knows what cupboard he can get into and wastes no time on the locked ones but heads straight for the one he can open. I share this because of the similarity to the wide world of the web. Children of all ages will find the open cupboard. I find it is a grossly under-addressed problem.

Unfortunately I agree it is the nature of the beast. Really is it the child bully who is to blame for the countless tragedies of bullying and the effect it has on the bullied and their families? I feel strongly that it is not. We all have had our experiences with bullying. Either being the target or even witnessing the cruelty that is seemingly in the very nature of school children as a whole. I don't think anyone has been exempt to these experiences since the beginning of time. But bullying has taken a much more intrusive turn from the days of school yard scuffs. This is when the protection of your children is becoming difficult. I have always thought of home being a safe zone from all my days' upsets. Now imagine the mean lady from the grocery store or the jerk who cut you off on your way to work or even the not so nice boss being able to enter your home, your living room and worse your bedroom.

I feel it is today's parents granting access to your children's safe zone by allowing computer/cell phone/iPod/iPad/any other devise that has access to not only the internet but access to other people. The days of face-to-face combat bullying are over. Therefore the parents might as well invite the offenders into your house to taunt your child. Also on the flip side of that, the parents might as well encourage bullying and drive their children around to facilitate the hate by not supervising and limiting the use of such devises.

In defence of the ignorant parents out there YES your kids can run circles around most non-tech adults. For instance I have a friend who once told me that her child never goes on the internet without her supervision and that her computer has parental controls on it anyway. But when I mentioned that the iPod Touch she had bought her child for Christmas had internet access via Wi-Fi, she was horrified. She thought it was an iPod for playing music. She said she didn't think her 8yr-old knew its capabilities, so we asked the child. Low and behold of course she knew it. Then she went on to explain to her truly bewildered mother that the games she plays on the iPod were all online.

So as I said before, children of all ages will find the open cupboard. I agree and commend you Stephen on your household policies and all your attempts to protect your family. I just wish more parents would get informed, involved and take the time to help with what seems to be a growing problem. Because the scary fact is that the dangers of the internet goes far deeper than bullying and the fact that all these electronic devises always know exactly where I am scares me a little. I don't even want to think about what that means for my children's safety...

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