Parents are being called on to ‘Get Webwise! – Get Involved!’


2 Feb 2011

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Safer Internet Day will be celebrated on Tuesday, 8 February 2011, in Ireland and 65 countries around the world, writes NCTE’s Simon Grehan.

The main objective of Safer Internet Day 2011 is to bring together relevant organisations, in as many countries as possible, to raise awareness about safe and responsible use of internet technologies, especially among children and young people.

This year in Ireland parents are being called on to ‘Get Webwise! – Get Involved!’ As parents, it is vital to have good, open communication with your child about their internet lives. Like all other aspects of their lives, we need to talk to our children about the potential dangers that they may come across online, along with the many benefits they will find.

Webwise and UPC are working together to help parents have a positive impact on their children’s online lives. UPC, over the years, has worked with Webwise in a joint effort to increase awareness of Safer Internet Day, and also donates hardback copies of each the toolkits to distribute at the parenting events and talks in schools by industry volunteers organised by Webwise.

Technology offers new and exciting opportunities for all of society, but especially children. Email, instant messaging, texting and Facebook are allowing Irish children to connect with each other and engage with society in new and extraordinary ways.

The information revolution, which includes computing, the internet and mobile devices, has brought so many sweeping changes that its impact could surpass even the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the 15th century. This is especially true of this generation of children who are the first to grow up with access to such powerful technologies.

We are also seeing how the anonymous, instant and far-reaching communication powers of the internet have brought a new dimension to child protection issues such as bullying, anorexia, suicide and sexual exploitation. Parents and schools have responsibilities to work together to make sure that children are protected from the risks of using the internet, without restricting their opportunities to capitalise from the obvious recreational and educational benefits.

How to be webwise

1.     Encourage your child to be careful when disclosing personal information. They should be selective about what personal information and photos they post to online spaces. Explain that once material is online it can easily be copied and used without their permission. Once it’s shared, they lose control over who can see it and in what context.

2.     Talk about the risks associated with meeting online friends. Young people are making friends online and then meeting up with them face-to-face. Agree to rules around this that are appropriate for your child. It is a good idea not to go to a meeting alone – always meet in a public place, and make sure you know when they are doing this.

3.      Teach your child to be critical of web content. Anyone can post information to the internet without restriction. Encourage your children to be critical of information they find online.

4.     Don’t be too critical of your child’s exploration of the internet. Remember, it is not always their fault if they come across inappropriate content on the web. You want your child to talk to you about things that bother them, so don’t be too quick to attribute blame.

5.     Report online material you may consider illegal to the appropriate authorities. It is important that we all take responsibility for the web and report harmful content to the website owners and potentially illegal content to www.hotline.ie.

6.     Encourage respect for others. As in everyday life there are informal rules for how to behave when relating to other people on the internet. Encourage your child to be respectful of others when communicating online.

7.     Know your child’s internet use. Whether it’s on their mobile phone or PC, it is important to understand how children use the internet and know what they like to do online. If you are looking for more information, visit www.facebook.com/webwise.

8.     Remember that the positive aspects of the internet outweigh the negative aspects. The internet is an excellent educational and recreational resource for children. Encourage your child to explore the internet to its full potential.

Protection in schools

In schools in Ireland we have good systems in place to protect our children from the downside of internet use. We have a centralised filter that blocks harmful content. We have rules and policies in place that all students sign up to. We also have high levels of supervision of pupils when they are online.

However, it is not enough to block or ban online content. Young people have numerous and often ingenious ways of accessing digital content. Schools are also increasingly focusing their attention on fostering ethical attitudes and personal responsibility in internet use by integrating internet safety curriculum resources into the teaching and learning.

Learning doesn’t stop when children pass through the school gates and nor does internet use. In fact, children in Ireland are significantly more likely to be online at home than anywhere else. Parents need to foster an attitude of responsible internet practice and to reinforce the idea of ethical and responsible behaviour in their children.

This is easy to say but not always easy to do. Parents can find themselves enthused by the fantastic opportunities technology provides for children, and at the same time worried about what they might see online and who they communicate with.

The public debate about children and the internet tends to focus on the negative elements. It can at times even become hysterical and scare-mongering. In this context of uncertainty and sometimes fear about making decisions regarding how we will monitor our children’s use of the internet, it is not surprising that we tend to err on the side of safety when it comes to moderating their online lives.

We can’t deny that there are online risks for children and young people, but we have to be balanced and proportionate in our thinking about how to enable our kids to be safe online.

The more we are mindful of the positive opportunities the internet provides, and the more we are able to teach them to be responsible users, the more we enable them to have fun and learn. However, if we allow fear to dominate and restrict our children’s online activity, the more they will find ways to circumvent these blocks and, in the long term, be even more vulnerable.

Often parents feel at a disadvantage when they are talking to their children about the internet as they can feel that their children may know more than they do. This can be an ideal opportunity to get your child to talk about what they do on the internet and show you around the sites that they visit while on the computer.

UPC has co-developed two internet safety resources for parents: Family e-Safety Toolkit and Play and Learn: Being Online. These aim not just to take the mystery out of children’s use of the internet, but importantly they also have activities and games that parents and children can do together to develop open and relaxed communication channels around their online lives.

Family e-Safety Toolkit

Parents who are finding it difficult to identify a suitable context for engaging with their children about what they do online can rest easier, for help is at hand. The 10,000 pupils attending the Safer Internet Day talks in schools will be given a Family e-Safety Toolkit, produced by UPC and Webwise, which contains a parents’ guide, games and stickers.

It aims to give parents a tool that they can use to help them to discuss the key online safety topics in a fun and informative way, and ultimately help them to agree rules for internet use in their homes.

This year, UPC is proud to mention that a number of staff have volunteered to participate in the Webwise Talks in Schools initiative. Each volunteer was trained by the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) to deliver a 30-minute talk to a number of primary schools to help promote safer and more effective use of the internet by children.

In addition, and in conjunction with Webwise, a number of Family e-Safety Toolkits will be presented at parenting information evenings organised by the National Parents Council, which are scheduled to take place from Tuesday, 8 February, and to continue to the end of 2011. You can download this pack and get details of the parenting events online.

Play and Learn: Being Online

This resource is aimed at the youngest internet users. Children are going online at increasingly at younger ages. In Ireland most children are using the internet before they are eight.

Play and Learn: Being Online gives parents the perfect opportunity to open the discussion about internet safety. It may be obtained in two forms – the first in a booklet and the second will be online and targets children aged from four to eight years to introduce concepts of modern technology in their daily vocabulary and activities. The overall experience can be shared with friends or parents, and offers each child the autonomy to carry out the reading or exercise alone.

We know the advantages of using the internet far outweigh the risks. The risk of missing out on the education and social opportunities afforded by the internet is perhaps the greatest of all. The opportunities for self expression and communication are too great to ignore.

But we need to moderate our children’s use of the internet in the same way we moderate what they watch on TV or what they do and where they go on the weekend.

Simon Grehan