Tuesday, 3 June 2014

NetParanoia.com - fear of the net and being a parent

So you have kids. Do you let them play in the playground at school? Do they get hurt there? Fall over? Fall out with their mates? Get teased? Possibly bullied?
Being at school and playing in the playground and learning how to deal with all that that entails is part of growing up and we wouldn't want to stop that - would we?
But are we as free and easy about it on the net?
Judging by the headlines the net is a far scarier, and more deadly place, for kids to be than in the school playground, than at home...
But statistically speaking children are more likely to be harmed at home and by their parents on a physical, emotional and mental basis than they are ever likely to be anywhere else - the net included! These were the points raised at a brilliant lecture I went to last night: NetParanoia.com The Great Internet Paranoia Swindle with Euan Semple: an internet guru you could say.
He was not advocating that parents should negate their responsibilities and that everything and everyone on the net was a benign force with only the best intentions at heart; but what he was saying was that we, as parents, should be learning about the internet and using it ourselves the better to understand the opportunities it can give, they way it works so we can understand the threats, and how we can all benefit, not just as families but as a community.
Just because our children can turn on a smart phone and switch on a computer, without having to look at a manual, does not mean they are experts at working the web or indeed how to behave online. That  would be like saying that just because they can walk and talk means they know how to behave full stop - they, like all of us, have to learn.
The talk, and discussion after, jumped about a bit covering topics such as how freely should I let my children play on the internet to how do I deal with horrific and indeed sexual images on the net? How do I help my children with  on-line bullying? And what about the glare from computers? How do I deal with a child who keeps playing with computers way into the night...
The simple answer was this: be a parent and do what you always do.
If you don't want them playing the computer way into the night don't have the computer in the bedroom; if you are worried about your kids never going outside; tell them to go outside. On-line bullying is the same as bullying full stop and deal with it as you would if it was happening in the playground.
Dealing with  horrific and sexual images on the net is just the same as if  you came across them in a magazine or newspaper. Some will say they are more accessible on-line but  take a look around you  and you will probably find that  the local news on the radio is just as graphic. My kids certainly know all about Operation Yew Tree and what happened to the two girls who were hung from a tree in Pakistan as it was on the radio news on their way to school.
Most of the time they tune out: "News is boring!" Sometimes I am put on the spot and I have to explain the best I can.
We should not be fearful of the internet or indeed fearful for our children - it is an amazing place where we can learn and share and just because we are told: "Muuum! You are SO old!" does not mean that we should not learn and share too.
The use of the internet has freed me to earn money as a journalist from home; I have connected with a community that has stopped me going barking mad, I have met people  on-line who are amazing, kind, collaborative, witty, wise and I have learnt so much!
Long may it continue for me and my family!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Are you the parent of a cyberbully?

Come on hands up  do you really know what your kids are saying online? Can you honestly say you know what they are doing? What they are posting? Do you even know if your kid's online or not?
I didn't know my eldest was online.
I didn't know he was on Instagram.
I didn't know he'd got himself into a situation - one that was rapidly becoming toxic.
For heck's sake he's only 10!
I thought I was being so clever. I thought I had it all under control. I had given him an iPod what, two years ago... I had it so that it was essentially registered to me and anything he added to it would always show up on my account and on my iPad.
I had the usual buying apps without asking, sneaking face time with Granny  at 10pm on a school night, playing games when he should have been doing homework/sleeping/getting ready for school but I had not had him actually on-line for real.
But things change...
At the end of last term The Boy's two best mates left the school and while I was concerned I knew he'd be fine. He gets on with everyone.
What I had not expected was that he'd start to try too hard in an effort to fit in and be accepted. So last week  they were all off on a day trip and during the bus journey there the kid persuaded him to join Instagram. Of course he was flattered and everyone gave him their tags and he started to follow them all. He watched what they did and tried to join in. But he doesn't  really know the etiquette and made a classic blunder.
He tagged a whole load of kids when he uploaded a photo of himself with his fingers pointing like a gun at his head. He didn't realise he should have pout a witty one liner caption on the photo or that he possibly should not have tagged all and sundry.
The first response was why did you tag me, then there was another why, then a child said the photo was the most cringeworthy photo they had ever seen, the next was about perhaps The Boy wanted to kill them, there were a whole load more who kept asking why were they tagged. There were a lot of blank/angry/puzzled emoticons and The Boy was overwhelmed and did not understand. He said he came in peas and got a more grief for poor spelling.
Basically the situation started to go toxic and The Boy brooded. Kept  stealing looks at the comments trying to figure out what he had done wrong. And it was when he stole the iPod on evening that I caught him and found out what was going on. Found out that I had had no idea that he was online.
I don't think the kids he was online to really understood that they were taking things out of proportion or how much hurt they cased. It was a kind of pack mentality - but we know that it has to start somewhere. And for me this is a wake up call.
If half the parents realised what their kids were saying and doing online I very much doubt that half the children would be allowed.
I told the school to watch my son; I have taken him off Instagram until he can handle it. I am never going to get complacent again...
My approach now is three pronged.
School - when they talk about Cyberbullying and what you should do to make yourself safe online I suggested that they also talk about how to behave online.
The Boy - I am going to organise for him to be taught (along with me and his father) how to use Instgram/Twitter etc and how to behave online and what to do when faced with problems such as this, how to report bad behaviour and also how to minimise damage caused.
Parents - I am going to ask that worst question in the world that any parent can be asked: Is your Child a Cyberbully? Are they or could they be part of a pack that sends another child over the edge? Do you know what your children are saying/doing online? And the biggest of all: if you don't know why not!!!!!

Go on you know you want to...


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