Despite a message that could be the deciding factor in a life and death scenario, only a handful of people showed up at a parent Internet safety training session held at the Rimbey Municipal Library.
The session, led by Bob Spratt, a retired teacher and counsellor, provided straight talk about cyberbullying, social networking, online marketing to children and youth, gaming and sexual exploitation.
Spratt said the electronic revolution has amazing potential to provide an unlimited amount of useful knowledge. Unfortunately, it is also is the gateway to “garbage” that can be harmful to young people.
“It’s all about choice,” he said, adding an “accidental click” can expose sites with inappropriate text and pictures.
Spratt said children as young as two years old may begin playing video games and by the age of five or six begin entering social networking sites such as Webkinz.
He said children of this age require supervision and hands-on guidance as they explore the web because they do not have the critical thinking skills to use the Internet alone.
Parents of children in this age group need to supervise their on-line visits, use kid-friendly search engines or ones with parental controls only and encourage critical thinking skills.
From age seven to 12, children become more confident about going online and begin to look outside the home for socialization and information. Their favorite online activities are playing and downloading games, music and videos from You-Tube. They may visit virtual environments like Neopets, Club Penguin or Togetherville.
Unfortunately, the escalating online usage means they are just a click away from inappropriate material and their usage needs to be monitored closely. Placing computers in open spaces and restricting access to appropriate sites is an option parents should consider, said Spratt.
The same risks teens face offline are enhanced in the online world. From age 12 to 17, the Internet provides teens with unlimited opportunities and choices, many of which have detrimental, even tragic results.
Personal information on sites such as Facebook makes it accessible to any number of people, thereby increasing the risk of bullying and predators.
Teens with credit card access have the option of making purchases online, and rebellious teens may break the rules and visit sites with scenes of violence, gambling or pornography.
Spratt said parents need to start monitoring their children’s Internet usage when they are three or four years old and to keep the lines of communication open up to and during their teenage years. He added parents can’t start setting ground rules when their children are teenagers without already having laid groundwork for Internet usage.
“It would be World War II all over again,” he said.
While Spratt sees the Internet as a valuable tool, he notes it does present dangers and challenges. He added communicating through texts and other social media can cause serious deficiencies in verbal communication skills.
“(For some people) it has created a vacuum of interpersonal relations.”
Establishing a family online agreement and setting up computer house rules are ways to help parents to monitor online usage.
For more information check out cyber security consumer tip sheet at http://mediasmarts.ca/sites/default/files/pdfs/tipsheet/CyberSecurityConsumerTipsheetv4.pdf.