Last month, an 18 year old teenager was murdered after making contact with a stranger. The blame was flying all over the place with some blaming Facebook’s privacy, the parents and others blaming the Government for lack of education and control over the cyberspace.
What became slightly absurd to me was when the news broke, news stations were having “internet safety experts” to provide comments, which consisted of mainly over-worried mothers, and in a few cases, the police. Advices provided include:
I agree with all the above just not quite the part on befriending my mum on Facebook and the internet filtering. Honestly, I don’t know how many teenagers would actually befriend their mothers on Facebook – I know, back when I was a teenager, I definitely wouldn’t. Now, there is a whole conversation going on about cyber-safety, and what anger me the most is the internet filtering.
My point of view is that cyber safety is not too far different than “real-life” safety. In the same way that you do not disclose personal information and engage yourself in unknown and unfamiliar relationships, put yourself in vulnerable situations or put yourself to places you don’t want to be in real life, its exactly the same online!
On the whole idea on privacy, there is no such thing as privacy online if you choose to put your information online. If you want your address and mobile number to be private, keep it to yourself – don’t post it anywhere online, nor share it with your family and friends “offline”. I think that is fundamentally what online safety should be about – we need to understand that the “real world” and the “digital world” in our current age is not a clear cut line anymore. The younger generations have both their lives online and offline converging more and more, so the conversation isn’t so much just about cyber-safety but “real-life” safety as well.
We need to rethink how we engage our children and youth online – the media that they’re using and how we could potentially support them in using these digital media in appropriate ways. Having conversations with children about their online activities isn’t the worse idea, except not quite what most people think. I am talking about having your children tell you about online safety. In yesterday’s Pew Internet & American Life Project report, “Reputation Management and Social Media“, young people actually have a better idea on cyber-safety than most adults.
44% of young adult Internet users say they take steps to limit the amount of information available about them, compared to 33% of users ages 30 to 49 and 25% of those ages 50 to 64. 71% of younger social networking site users actively change their privacy settings to limit what they share with others online, compared to 55% of those 50 to 64. 41% have removed their names from photos of them posted by others, compared to just 18% of those 50 to 64.
Having your kids show you the rope around the internet gives you a better view of their online activities and their digital and cyber literacy more than you can get if you ask them directly.
Teenagers turn to the internet as a respite from their everyday life. Internet also gives them the connections they don’t otherwise get access to in real life – this includes connection with peers and like-minded people. Whether this is for friendships or social action, Internet is a huge part of many teenagers’ life. It’s grown from a tool for young people to become a setting for connections, activities and education. In my limited experience as a middle school teacher, students with a healthy “offline” involvement such as volunteering, sports and family events are less likely to be digital natives and spend a lot less time online.
My suggestions to parents with adolescents and teenagers would be:
The Australian Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety is calling for submissions from individuals and organisations on privacy, online safety and abuse e.g. cyberbullying, inappropriate online behaviour, online environments young Australians are engaged in, etc.