TEENS & TWEENS
By CHARIS PATRICK
According to the Norton Online Family Report 2010 as quoted in the article, Threats on the Internet: “Malaysian children spend an average of 19 hours a week online – eight hours more than their parents’ estimation.
“Six out of 10 parents are unaware of what their children access on the Internet, and that an overwhelming number of Malaysian children (90%) have been exposed to negative experiences online, which affected them emotionally.”
As mentioned in my article a fortnight ago, technology is changing our world, and the way we make friends, learn, work and play.
As it is, parenting in the real world has its challenges, let alone guiding our kids in the virtual realm!
However, with the given statistics, it is high time we took some proactive steps to bridge the technology gap in order to influence our teens/tweens.
As parents, we must believe that we hold the keys to helping our children develop in the Internet age.
We have the life experiences and strong values to guide our teens/tweens to make sound decisions on the Internet that will benefit them for life.
Here are some practical tips to get us to a quick start:
- Install computers only in common areas of your house so you can observe and discuss with your teens/tweens what they see. Surf with the kids when they first start on the Internet. Take the chance to introduce them to good sites.
- Embrace a healthy cyber wellness culture in your family. Teach your teens/tweens to be aware of the potential dangers on the Internet (such as pornography, hate sites, violence, racism, pro-suicide and sexual crime) and take responsibility to protect themselves, their siblings and friends. Warn them about false and harmful information as early as possible. This is important because parents cannot protect them the same way they do in the real world.
- The Internet is a powerful tool that can reach and influence millions directly. It is therefore important that they treat others with respect and mind their cyber manners and netiquette.
- Use the Internet to enhance our real life and not to replace it. Hence there should be a balance in the amount of time spent on it. Strike a deal with your teens/ tweens to stick to the agreed time for surfing or gaming a day. Ensure that they are still able to achieve their academic goals and participate actively in extra-curricular activities.
- Establish the rule that family meal times are for the family to connect in the real world. Hence no “i-activities” allowed (namely iPhone, iPad or Internet-related indulgences). This is to ensure we have a balanced lifestyle connecting both online and offline.
Ways to protect our teens/ tweens from potential dangers on the Internet:
- Install filtering services especially for younger children and tweens. For teenagers and tech-savvy children, this may be less effective as they may know how to get around the filters.
- There are three possible options:
1) Internet Service Provider (ISP) can provide filtering services to block some inappropriate content from the users.
2) Third-party software (e.g. Net Nanny) helps to monitor and control your teens/tweens’ usage of computers and the Internet.
3) Other built-in filtering features. Windows Vista, Yahoo! and Google offer a third layer of protection services such as e-mail blocking. Search for “Windows Vista parental controls”, “Google parental controls” or “Yahoo parental controls” to find out more.
Such tools can only be used to monitor the youth’s online habits outside physical supervision, for example, while the parents are away for work. But they can never fully replace proper education and supervision needed to build a sense of self-responsibility in teens/tweens.
- Teach your teens/tweens to close the Internet windows and tell immediately when they encounter sites that make them feel uncomfortable.
- Meeting online friends for the first time is as unpredictable as meeting a stranger. Teens/tweens should avoid meeting online friends without first informing and checking with their parents. If they have to meet an online friend, bring along a trusted adult.
- Reduce the risk of revealing too much information when registering on any social networking websites such as Facebook. Teach the teens/tweens to differentiate between public, private and confidential information. For example, instead of revealing your name, address and date of birth fully, use a nickname, state the country and region for address, and just put in your day and month of birth. Using online social networks is all about benefiting from the advantages while navigating around dangers. It is important to explore with caution.
The biggest challenge in parenting kids in the Internet age does not lie with technology or computer games. Instead, it lies with parents who do not use the Internet the way their kids do, and are unable to “be with them” in their growing journey.
May we the parents conquer the fears we may have of the cyberspace, bond with our teens/tweens through the use of Internet and make the most of the Internet in our parenting journey! – Reference: Cyber Wellness handbook for parents at www.planetcrush.org/resources
Charis Patrick is a trainer and family life educator who is married with four children.