Younger children most at risk online says expert

25 Feb 2008

Social networking sites like Club Penguin and GirlSense , which are aimed at pre-teens, can often be a bigger worry than Bebo or Facebook, says Luison Lassala, director of Anchor Youth Centre in Dublin and a freelance IT consultant.

“There is a certain naivety among parents who may think that sites like these are completely safe because they are just places where children can play. But in reality they are playing with other site users and there is no way to tell if these users are in fact children of a similar age,” Lassala said.

However, Lassala added that children on Club Penguin and other pre-teen sites are encouraged not to disclose any personal information and if someone asks them for their mobile number or address, they can report that to other Penguins immediately.

Lassala thinks the attitude parents should have towards these sites is to instill common sense and good values in their child’s home environment and know that this will have a large influence on the way that child approaches online interaction.

“I think it is very useful for parents to give good values to children about what is right and what is wrong and not to rely on the technology to keep them safe.

“Unfortunately, parents have a much harder task these days because there are so many influences on their children beyond the schoolyard and beyond the classroom,” he added.

The trouble, he said, is not just cyberbullying or online predators, which are often the only risks to be reported in the media.

These issues are just the tip of the iceberg, he says. The fact that your children are interacting with other children in a social networking environment means that their attitudes and opinions are being influenced by this every day.

“If your 12-year-old daughter was going to the local park every evening to hang out with a gang of twentysomething-year-olds and listening to them talking about their relationships and their daily lives you would be concerned. This is essentially what can and will happen on a social networking site.”

By Marie Boran