Are your children addicted to the internet?
A Coquitlam educator says parenting not parent control software is the key to keeping kids safe online.
Dave Sands, School District 43's Energy Manager who also consults on technology for the district, says the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to the internet and parents are coming to the realization that they have to do more to guide their children's internet use.
With new social media sites cropping up all the time and increasing numbers of youth online [IPSOS Reid reports a majority (54%) of youth are texting and (48%) are using online social media daily to communicate], parents need to find a way to have conversations with their kids about their online activity, and how to regulate it.
"There's no getting around just good, old, fashioned parenting," Sands said, noting that youth are increasingly tied to constant contact with friends and thus, are unable to escape, the pressures of socializing, even when they are at home, or engaged in activities unrelated to school and friends.
"They basically don't get the down time. We [parents] don't understand. These issues don't disappear," Sands said, and because kids lack the self-regulation and control that comes with experience, it's up to parents to provide the guidance. "The kids know the landscape, but we have the moral compass to navigate it," he said.
On April 22 from 7-9 p.m. in the Gallery Room at Winslow Centre in Coquitlam, Sands will be offering tips on proactive eparenting and discussing the issues of screen time, addiction and internet safety. Parents are encouraged to bring their laptops and will leave the workshop with information and strategies to support their kids in avoiding risky behavior and achieving "balance" in their lives.
One idea Sands uses with his teens and pre-teens is to encourage everyone to plug their phones into a charging device in the kitchen, before dinner, games night or other family activities. (Cue the whining and the complaints)
"We need to step up up and make sure we're parenting, and it's hard work," he agreed.
Parents of younger children, especially elementary school parents, are especially welcome to attend the workshop so they learn strategies early. Sands said he has been bringing his message to increasingly younger kids and parents, including visiting a recent Kindergarten/Grade 1 class, to talk about not sharing passwords and personal information online.
In recent years, the conversation on children's internet use has moved from how to block kids from accessing inappropriate content online to providing guidance and strategies so kids know what to do when something bad happens.
This is a positive trend, Sands says, because parents are no longer burying their head in the sand and the recent suicide of Port Coquitlam teen Amanda Todd (after posting a video about being bullied online) may be behind the change in parental attitudes. "People are looking for deeper answers now."
He cautions parents to avoid confiscating kids' internet connections, smart phones etc., when something bad happens online, and instead be open to conversations and acknowledging kids for sharing information.
Parents can then take appropriate action to support their children, whether it be contacting the police, the school or other parents involved. The pervasiveness of technology requires a community response, he said, and parents are on the front lines.
"We need to work together," Sands said, acknowledging that parents, educators, school administrators and emergency responders need to support youth or they'll simply turn to their peers for help and advice. "That's just the blind leading the blind."
• Registration for "Parenting The Net Generation - What makes our kids Click" is required at http://dpac43davesands.eventbrite.ca (this is the preferred method) or by phone (604-939-3690) leaving your name, phone number and number of people attending.
Child-minding is not available and this is an adult event.