TORONTO — The Internet isn’t as scary as it might seem to parents who are trying to keep their children safe online.
That was the message Ryan Moreau had last week at the launch of the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto’s new speaker series for parents in the community. His talk was titled “The Social Family” and focused on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Moreau is president of Kiwi Seminars (http://www.kiwicommons.com), an initiative committed to teaching parents and children how to be safe on the Internet. He speaks to children from five years old to high-school age about the best ways to use the Internet responsibly.
Today’s kids, he explained, have never known a time without the Internet, and for their parents who grew up before home computers were ubiquitous, showing kids how to safely navigate the web can be an intimidating task.
“As parents, one of the most important things to recognize is that nothing is new when parenting in a digital society,” he said, explaining that the values and lessons of parenting can also be applied to Internet safety.
The same way you would tell a child to look both ways before crossing the street, he said, you would tell them to be aware of their surroundings and to think before they act online. “We get around that technology piece and get to the core parenting messages.”
Moreau explained how sites such as Facebook and Twitter work, and he taught parents about the issues involved with them.
One of the biggest concerns with these websites is privacy, he said. Because of the widespread availability of the Internet, with more than two billion people connected, it’s important to be careful with the information we share online and whom we share it with.
“What are we sending? What are we sharing? What happens if it doesn’t just go from point A to point B and back?” he asked the audience.
Moreau told parents that these concerns shouldn’t stop them from letting their kids explore the web. Instead, they should inform themselves about their children’s online activities. “The best thing that parents can do is always be nosy,” he said, encouraging the audience to keep an open dialogue with their kids about who they speak to online and what they post.
The challenge with being involved in your children’s cyber lives, he said, usually comes when they reach pre-teen age. Until that point, parents are often able to supervise their children when they use the computer, but as kids get older, they seek more privacy and independence.
“Suddenly, doing it myself means ‘I don’t even want you to know what I’m doing,’” Moreau said.
At this age, it’s important for parents to reinforce the consequences of posting personal information about yourself or others and of using lax privacy settings online. “Once it’s out there, it’s pretty much out there,” he said, explaining that taking back information in the virtual world is nearly impossible.
Moreau added that once they reach high school, it’s imperative to warn teens about the possibility of employers searching their social media profiles.
“What goes out there can have an impact,” he said.
In addition to being informed and educating children about the Internet, Moreau suggested using blocking software to protect young children from inappropriate websites.
But Moreau said there’s no substitute for open and honest communication when it comes to keeping children safe.
“The message we’ve always been giving our kids is: if you have a problem, you can come to us.”