Wednesday, November 26, 2008

kids' safety

Ok, I know... the internet is a risky place for kids. I know all about the statistics of sadistic jerks out there praying on young people.

I also know the overwhelming influence of technology on our lives, including our kids' lives.

Let me back up a bit...

My kids are all grown up... but of course, now I have grand kids. When my kids were growing up there were a lot of influences in their lives that I could not control. They wanted to try every risky behaviour there was (at that time), and to test the limits of what they could and could not accomplish. That's what being a young person is all about after all.

There were extreme risks back then too. There were really scarey things like Clifford Olson was on the loose in our neighbourhood (of course, we didn't know his name back then, but we knew kids were being abused and killed by some sub-human jerk).

We had to decide... what do I teach my kids about strangers? They had to be polite, but how polite was safe? Could you say "hi" in passing a person on the street that you didn't know. Could you go out without your parent or some other trusted adult? What about hanging out with just other kids? What about people (strangers again) asking for directions to something? It is the same with looking for lost puppies.

What was the balance between warning and keeping our kids safe & street-wise vs. filling their heads with scarey stuff about the world at large.

Another example came with the game Dungeons & Dragons. There were rumours that children were taking the game too seriously and coming to harm from other players. Was the game inherently evil? Was there something about the game that led young people to act in hazardous ways?

And of course, there were the drugs and sex thing. Either of which could kill them. How young was too young to teach them about appropriate conduct. What is the difference between a glass of wine at dinner with your parents and a few (or more) beer with your friends. What about smoking dope? What is the appropriate age to teach children about these and other vices? What about the combination of alcohol, drugs and sex? There is a lot that can kill you, and there is no cure. Not just AIDS, but Hep C, and hepaviris (genital warts that can lead to cancer).

Its scarey.

And its complicated.

Personally, I think information is the key.

When my kids were young people, I wanted to know what they were doing and when and where, and with whom, 24/7. They thought that I was a little obsessive about it, but that's was ok with me. I wasn't their "friend", I was their parent. It was my responsibility to know what they were doing at any given time. If they didn't like that, oh well.

So that was the first part.

Then I decided to find out about the things that scared me that were within my capacity to learn about. So I decided to learn about Dungeons & Dragons. From the inside out. I learned what type of game it was and how to play. I learned about its limits and its expansiveness. And I played with my kids. Yes, I sometimes did look kind of funny rolling dice with a bunch of teens and pre-teens telling them that I could set a spell or make an attempt to hit a villain with a mace, but that didn't matter. It made me human to my kids, despite the fact that I was playing the roll of a paladin. I even learned to be a Dungeon Master.

Next find out what the kids are doing. Have a look at their web pages on social networks. They aren't going away. They are going to go on the computer while you watch, or behind your back. If safety is the key issue, then make some decisions, and make them with your kids.

First, the computer should be in a place where you can monitor what's going on. The kitchen, the living room are good places. The basement is NOT.

Have a look at which social networks your kids are on. Have them accept you as a friend on those networks. This way, you have some way to monitor what they are doing when you are not watching. Remember, this works both ways! They will be looking at your site too. Remember you are a role model.

Next, do a little research. Find sites that will give you help. Find out what the issues and concerns are about.

Do you know what your kids are like outside of your site? You should ask around. You can you know... This is what Dr. Phil has to say about it:
"Know What's Going on Behind-the-Scenes. While you can't supervise your children 24 hours a day, you can be in regular communication with the other adults who interact with them. Talk to other parents who have your kids over as guests, and talk to teachers and caregivers. Remember, they're your best resource for monitoring out-of-the-house behavior."

One of my concerns is bullying. I don't want my grand daughter to be hurt by things that others say about her. This applies to the real world and to the cyber world. Kids don't have the skills to cope as well as adults (and lots of us don't have those skills too). Anyway, I want my grand daughter to know that she is loved and special and that I think well of her. I want her to be protected from those that would slight her and thus hurt her feelings. So, I did some searching, and found something called the Anti-Bullying Pledge. There is ones for kids, and ones for parents. Have a look here for more information:

Ok that's it for now... be safe!

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