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Parenting The Internet

Monday, 20 October 2008

Internet awareness for parents who worry about what their child is getting up to on social network sites.

. A Series of free countrywide workshops for parents commencing next month.
. Aim is to raise awareness and increase computer literacy among parents so they can learn to monitor, communicate, understand and filter what their kids get up to on social network sites such as Bebo, Utube and Facebook

Guest 1.
Maurice Muldoon - managing director of www.click.ie - the company giving workshops.
Maurice is a dad.
He has a diploma in electronic engineering and computers.

Guest 2.
Suzanne Cox. Mum of 4 from, Greystones, Wicklow. Works as a development officer for Open Door.
Suzanne has 3 sons Nicky and twins Ben and Sam and 1 daughter, Jodi.

Guest 3.
Alex Fagan. Lives in Howth. Stay at home Mum of 5. 4 daughters and 1 son

Why is there a need for these courses?
Maurice - Kids back in school; using the internet for social networking. Christmas is looming, and computers will be on many parents' shopping lists. As a dad myself I find that I worry about what my kids get up to on the net. I know that 98 per cent of the time, what goes on is ok, and I while I do worry about that other 2 per cent of the time, I feel that if parents were educated more about social network sites and knew how to monitor and communicate with their kids regarding these sites, then they'd feel a lot happier about allowing them to log on. It's better to be educated and be aware rather than to ban the sites altogether. Kids will use them, so why not understand them for yourselves. That's why I decided to set up these free workshops. I want to help parents understand that they can monitor the sites and have control over what their kids are accessing; and at the same time, the kids can still use the social networks safely.

But aren't most parents computer literate?
Maurice -Children today are growing up with technology that wasn't around when their parents were young; everything from personal computers and the internet, to the mobile phone, the games console, and even satellite TV.
And while these technologies benefit children's lives in many amazing ways, as with any technology, there can be associated dangers, and my concern is that many parents are totally oblivious of the possible problems.

What areas will be addressed by these workshops?
Maurice
- We want to address the lack of parental awareness of internet safety and general technology issues. You could say it's a Safer Technology Workshop and we will go into various safeguards, including a computer's inbuilt security and parental control settings, applying filtering technologies, and, most importantly, parents improving their own knowledge and awareness of the technology used by their children, and talking to the children about potential dangers and agreeing boundaries to help keep them safe.

Will you address inappropriate content or are there other areas parents need to be aware of?
Maurice - Yes, as well as inappropriate content there are dangers such as computer viruses, spam-mail, online predators in chat-rooms, illegally accessing copyrighted materials such as music or films, and various types of fraud, including spyware, which can take personal information from your computer, will also be discussed at the workshops. Advice on ensuring safe use of other technology is also included, such as checking that the content of video games and satellite channels is appropriate and monitoring mobile phone use and content to avoid problems, from bullying, to excessive charges for premium services.

Maurice - The workshops are designed to ensure that even parents with very little understanding of technology are made aware of the various concerns and are helped to address their family's needs with regard to safety and security. We're taking a common sense approach and hope to educate people, rather than scare anyone.
Computers are amazing, from an educational and a social perspective, keeping us in touch with business, and with friends and family. The often publicised risk from paedophiles, while important, can over-shadow other basic issues of child safety, when, in reality, children online are at greater risk from marketing scams, computer viruses, or of running up debt through premium services.

But isn't it difficult and expensive to police your child's use of the internet?
Maurice - Yes, it's difficult to supervise your children's internet use if you cannot use the technology yourself. But information is power for parents. The internet is a fabulous source of knowledge, but it also contains damaging content and, unlike most other media, there isn't editorial control. Parents do need to monitor their children's use of the internet and look out for warning signs such as offensive e-mails, improper conversations in chatrooms, or inappropriate content on the computer. Computers generally have 'filters' that you can use for free, so even if we just get parents to switch them on, we'll have helped.

What can filters do?
Maurice - Using Filters and Parental Control Programmes helps to block inappropriate content from appearing on the computer screen by recording an 'activity log' - a list of websites a child has visited - you can check they are suitable. Filters can limit the amount of time your child spends on the internet, and reduces the risk of computer viruses by restricting the websites visited and the type of programs and attachments downloaded onto the computer. Filters protects personal information on the computer and prevent financial information accidentally being sent out. They block applications (programmes) you do not want children to use, e.g.
Videogames. They can block file sharing; ie, taking content (e.g a music file) off one computer onto another, and allows you to set different 'filter levels' depending on the age of your children.

Possible dangers to children on the internet.
1. Inappropriate content such as pornography, racist, hate or violent material.
2. Unbalanced information on subjects such as extreme dieting, suicide etc, or content more suited to an adult.
3. . Computer viruses which can destroy information on your computer or stop the computer working properly.
4. Spam emails or 'junk mail' that, at best, are annoying and, at worst, can introduce viruses or inappropriate content to your computer.
5. Social-networking websites and chat-rooms where 'online predators',
6. adults pretending to be children, can target children.
7. Scams, fraud and phishing; attempts to con people out of money usually by obtaining their financial information.

Risks faced by Irish teens on social networking sites.
1. Bullying, intimidation, harassment.
2. Approach by on line predators who may coax them into meeting them.
3. Giving out personal information online without knowing who can see it .
4. Identity theft.
5. Publishing unsuitable photographs or videos of themselves online, e.g.
6. with webcams.

What is deemed inappropriate content?
1. Text, photographs or videos that can include porn, self-harm clues, anti-social behaviour.
2. Spending time on line that leads to neglecting exercise or outdoor activities or homework.
3. Breaking the law by posting copyrighted material online.

*(Information on computer/internet/filters above all supplied by Maurice Muldoon of www.click.ie)

A word from the expert:
Information from Simon Grehan, Internet Safety Project Co-Ordinator with the National Centre for Technology and Education. www.webwise.ie

Simon, do you think the workshops are useful?
Simon - Yes, communication is the way to go, but I think that the worst thing a parent can do is rely on technical solutions over social solutions. So called Snooping Software is not very effective. When you think that kids are possibly the most technically literate in the house so they will possibly be able to disable the software.

What do you suggest?
Simon - There are products available for parents to run in the background and track conversations etc., but you don't want to break trust. (I advise) get enough of the language of what kids are using to be able to engage with them. The worst thing you can do is to rely on technology to do it.
Do you run these courses?
Simon - Yes but they are run by accredited facilitators trained in parenting issues not just by someone with a technology qualification.

Fact! According to Simon, less than one third of parents across Europe would approve technical solutions over social solutions.

Book available. How To Keep Your Child Safe On The Internet
by Wendy Davies see www.rollercoaster.ie for extract.

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