Need to set online rules

It's important to keep an eye on children when it comes to the cyber world, parenting columnist Ian Munro writes.

All news media over recent months have at different times highlighted the online dangers people face today.

We read of adults relieved of large sums of money; a chief financial officer deceived into forwarding money offshore; dating sites used to dupe people into becoming drug mules; the suicide of the young and not so young bullied online; and social media used to lure youngsters into paedophilia traps.

In 2000, I wrote a column on the dangers of the internet and the need to monitor youngsters' use of chat rooms on the home computer. How the world has changed.

Online access is now part of the daily life for virtually everyone over 2 years of age. Schools make use of the internet in classrooms on a daily basis and access is ubiquitous: anywhere, any time on a variety of devices.

Reassuringly, our youngsters do seem to be aware that there are dangers, according to the findings of last year's Small Voices, Big Dreams annual international survey conducted by the ChildFund Alliance.

Eighty percent of the New Zealand 10-12-year-olds surveyed felt online danger was one of the biggest they faced. Only Swedish, Australian and French children scored this higher.

Perhaps it says something about the sort of society they live in when they perceive that this is where the worst risks are, although Kiwi children saw walking alone as slightly more dangerous (81%).

Unfortunately, there are still a large number of parents who continue to fail to understand the significant dangers despite all the publicity. When all you do is send email, Google the occasional piece of information or recipe and update your Facebook page, it can be hard to comprehend just where your youngster might be going.

Inappropriate use can have a significant emotional and psychological impact. Our children can easily access sites showing torture and other abuse; read about and watch sexual activity in every conceivable form; and learn everything from how to hack websites and steal money and identities, to how to kill others and make bombs.

At a local level, the bullying videos created in our school grounds for worldwide consumption are an encouragement for these sorts of practices to get bigger and better.

The internet allows our youngsters to make all sorts of interesting contacts but social media can be addictive and children easily fooled.

Think carefully about the sort of phone you provide them with, oversee what they're doing online on the computer, and their phone and tablet, check the usage history, and seriously consider using filtering software.

Set some rules on never giving out personal information including photos, never arranging to meet in person someone met online, and telling you if they receive messages that make them feel uncomfortable.


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