There were one or two comments made to me via twitter, about the stats I provided, on my last post on online safety and kids, particularly the one about “64 percent of all teens say they do things online they don’t want their parents to know about”. I’d like to talk about the concern I have behind that figure and some suggestions for how to be more aware about what your kids are doing online in this post today. I’m also very interested in what you think!
We know that one of the most important things when bringing up teens and pre-teens is to attempt to have a relationship with your child that fosters open discussion about issues that are happening around your children. So that when they are confused by something or concerned with making a good decision, particularly around stopping cyber bullying, they can go to their parents or carers to discuss their concerns without fear. A child may feel that this is very difficult to do if they feel the parent is not interested, or if the parents tend to be disparaging about what it is they the child is concerned about, or the child is worried the parent may be overly judgmental. It is also very difficult if the child feels that the parent has no understanding about whatever it is that they need advice on, and they feel that to discuss this issue with the parent would amount to running a short course for the parent to be able catch up, before the parent can help.
This weekend a close family members son was sent a string of messages from a 40 year old ex-employee from his school. This man informed this child that he was leaving the school, but wanted to stay in touch with him online. Now this fellow may be just a harmless lonely 40 year old gamer, with a genuine love of kids, but what he has done has put the boy in a very awkward position where he was afraid to reject this mans proposition because the man also lives nearby, this boy is now suspicious of this man’s motives and is very worried about repercussions. This man crossed the line from being a friendly school worker, to trying to “befriend” a child socially for perhaps predatory purposes. This incident is right now being followed up by the school and the Police Liaison Officer. The good side of this, is that this boy came and told his parents about this straight away. The reason being, he said he felt “creeped” out. And his gut told him this was wrong. He had previously had many discussions about adult approaches through online games and other areas online, but unfortunately when this man gave him his gaming contact name on xBox, the boy thought it was ok, as this man worked for his school, and… he didn’t think it important to tell. The messages from this man were text book (if there is one) grooming language. He said all the right things. But the child still knew that this was very wrong.
I believe the figure given in the survey I quoted on my previous blog post, about 64% of Teens hiding things from parents online, is quite concerning even if other readers think it is “normal” for kids to hide things from parents. Online interaction is an area just ripe for vulnerable kids to be taken advantage of. I don’t buy the argument that this is “normal” and therefor we should not be suprised or alarmed. This figure if accurate also means there are 64% of parents out there that have significant relationship and trust issues with their kids that they need to work on, with or without help. I and I would hope that many other parents and teachers, would like to see that figure reduced, even if right now that seems unlikely or unrealistic, its certainly worth working towards improvement.
The unfortunate issue that happened to our family this weekend is for me, one of the reasons why I think it is vital for parents to have a relationship where your child can come to you, admit they made a mistake, and report these things without fear that the computer or the game will be arbitrarily taken away, or that they will be accused of being stupid. This boy has learned a sad lesson through this. However, through his own previous knowledge and previous discussions he knew he could come to his parents without fear, and he allready knew how to block this man online and where abouts online he had to do it. Unfortunately he has to also avoid him in the street, and we are really concerned about that.
This is why I think one of the best things you can do as a parent to try to know where your kids are going online and to be able to start to have these conversations and open discussions, is to be more involved and positive about your child’s hobbies and interests. Just like you do with other hobbies, whether its tennis, scouts, swimming, nature studies, surfing, or gaming.
Fortunately most of the subjects and others like them, suggested above, are things we as parents have some idea about or understanding, even if we don’t actively participate in those hobbies or sports. But gaming and online interaction is one pursuit that many parents today are simply bewildered about, and understandably so, it may not be something they have ever tried, and were most likely not brought up with as part of their childhood culture.
If your child spends a significant time gaming or on the computer, in order to have those all important conversations about their time online, you really need to find something about what they are doing on the computer that you can connect with. It might be that you play a computer game with them, or find other things on the computer you enjoy that they also might be interested in. But as a parent YOU need to open up the conversation and keep it going.
Having the computers in a central part of the house is the first and easiest step to being more aware of what your kids are doing online. Treat the computer much like the TV, (unless of course you have TV’s in the bedrooms!) If you are able to casually walk by or watch over their shoulder then you will have perfect opportunities for pointing things out, asking questions that are positive (not accusatory), and be able to keep an ear and an eye out for anything that sounds like your child is possibly the victim of a cyber bully. Supervision and genuine interest is key here, and have FUN!!!
Here are some suggestions for some fun things to do with your kids on computers! or portable devices.
- Share funny YouTube videos
- Play Minecraft (like a Lego virtual online game. Mac and Windows)
- Words With Friends (Like Scrabble on ipad,ipod,iphone)
- Hanging With Friends ( Word Game on ipad,ipod,iphone)
- Share articles with your kids on their favorite games
- Play Portal 2 with your kids (amazingly imaginative game with great voice over acting funny too)
- Tron is a great game based on the recent Film of the same name, (available on xBox, iPad and iPhone, and iPod.)
- Find a Wii game you all like play
- Subscribe to a Gaming site, with reviews so that you can be up to date on age appropriate games for kids.
- Get your kids to teach you game, like Angry Birds, or Doodle Jump. (ipad,ipod,iphone)
- If you see them playing a game, just ask little questions about it every now and then, (be careful about this one, as if you interrupt, they might tell you to get lost!)
- Make your kids friends welcome to come over to all play together, so you can find out what the other side of the conversation sounds like…(if you child wears headphones you only hear one side)
- Go with your kids to the Gaming stores to help them choose suitable games.
I’d like to find more of these, do you have any to add? What’s your take on kids hiding things from parents online does that concern you?
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