Balancing parental concern about the myriad dangers of the Internet and the necessary autonomy of growing youngsters is challenging for anyone. Limiting screen time and implementing parental controls are a start but in reality, much as a parent would educate a child about the real world, it is also their responsibility to raise safe, conscientious online citizens. Internet security isn’t a taboo subject and can be introduced at an early age, as soon as children begin to use devices. If a child is still at the stage where there are using a computer with a parent, rather than independently, this provides a great opportunity to highlight potential risks, much as you would discuss what is safe and unsafe in the real world. This approach can be widened as children get older, for example, an account that needs a password is an opportunity to discuss sensible and secure password options and explain why such things are necessary.
Another broader concept easily grasped by even the youngest children is the idea that if you wouldn’t do something face-to-face, you shouldn’t do it online. You wouldn’t approach a stranger and start a conversation (or respond to them if they spoke to you), and you wouldn’t say abusive things to friends or strangers. Screens provide a false sense of distance and security, but the online world is still the real world. Older children need to remember that everything they do and say online can be captured and return to haunt them. Colleges, universities and employers have been known to check online profiles. This can have a significant impact. Just this summer, Harvard rescinded the acceptance offer of at least ten students over the use of obscene memes (www.thecrimson.com/article/2017/6/5/2021-offers-rescinded-memes/). Does your child really want their future shattered over some unwise digital comments? Your online self is your real self, and it should reflect positively.
If you would like more information, British charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children provides a lot of great advice for parents about a range of online safety topics, including sharing information and images, available parental controls, and approaches to take when discussing online safety with your child (www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/online-safety/). If you’re a teacher, the charity also maintains free classroom resources and, for a small fee, online courses. In the US, the Federal Bureau of Investigation offers a similarly broad range of resources for parents (www.fbi.gov/resources/parents). In Hong Kong, the HK Government provides advice (www.infosec.gov.hk/english/parents/protect.html), and guidelines for social networking, as well as a detailed breakdown of online risks (www.gov.hk/en/residents/communication/infosec/socialnetworking.htm). So, don’t let this be a taboo subject in your home or classroom and remember that the consequences of online interactions are as significant as those taking place in the real world.
© 晉博教育中心 Brighten Youth Education Centre