The reality of cyber safety brought to the fore at Mitchelstown talk
Friday, 18 October 2013
7:55 AM GMT
Pictured at the Growing Up In The Cyber Age talk in The Firgrove Hotel were back (l-r): Speakers Eileen Keane, Sgt Kevin Sweeney and Garda John Hennessy with parents Joan Considine and Helena Norris and front (l-r): Josephine Coughlan (Chairperson St Fanahan’s Parent’s Council), Geraldine Hyland (PRO) and parent Eddie Hannon. Photo: Sandra Quinn
Growing up in an age where tablets, smart phones, smart TV’s, consoles and computers are all part of life can be exciting and liberating at times, but for parents, it can be hard to keep up with changing technologies and sometimes they don’t know how to protect their children from the potential dangers online.
The Parent’s Council from St Fanahan’s College organised a talk Growing Up In The Cyber Age, last Wednesday, October 9, as an opportunity for parents to learn more about the virtual world, which is such a major part of their children’s lives.
On the night, speakers included Sgt Kevin Sweeney, Community Garda John Hennessy, Eileen Keane of Jump Start Your Confidence and former Governor of Mount Joy, John Lonergan who all spoke about internet safety, parenting and the importance of communication.
Garda John Hennessy stressed that the information talk highlighted the fact that the parents locally realised how prominent this issue is at the moment.
Sgt Kevin Sweeney, based in Fermoy made the point that while the internet is a great asset, it can also be a dangerous place and the best way to be prepared to face problems if they arise, is to be well informed.
One of the warnings that came across stark and clear was that once something goes online, it is there forever and while the drunken photographs from a night out might be great craic when you’re 19, they may not look like so much fun to a prospective employer who checks out your Facebook page when you are looking for a job at 23.
He said that it is really important to talk to your children and be open about what they do and see online, so that if something happens they will come to the parents.
While children are taught not to talk to strangers, they might see nothing wrong with putting up their school, full name, and GPS coordinates online. Similarly, adults will put things up on Facebook and other social media sites about being on holidays for two weeks – while they wouldn’t tell a stranger thisinformation, they will happily share it with the world online.
“Being online alone in your own bedroom is like sitting in Patrick Street at a big window, where everyone can see what you’re doing,” Sgt Sweeney said.
He advised parents to make sure that their children personally know everyone that they are connected to online and that their privacy settings are set to maximum.
The sergeant spoke of one incident he had investigated where a 15-year-old girl was video chatting online and as things escalated, she took off her clothes and did things she was asked to do – without her realising, she was sharing this with three men, not one, and within minutes, the footage and pictures had been uploaded to more than 20 porn sites.
He also spoke of websites which encourage things like self-harm, suicide or anorexia and sites that teach people how to groom young children.
With cyber bullying, he pointed out that by the time the Gardai get involved, it has often gotten very serious, so it needs to be caught at school or home level before things escalate and one of the worst things about cyber bullying is that it can be anonymous, where the victim has no idea who their bully is.
Eileen Keane of Jump Start your Confidence spoke about the importance of building self-esteem from a young age, having open dialogue with your children and giving them space when they need it.
While many parents are quick to point out flaws or mistakes, she said that it is really important to thank children, even when are very young, and praise them for doing small jobs.
She stressed the importance of respect, saying that it is a huge part of parenting and that praise and encouragement are also very important, but also to be realistic without being cruel so that the child isn’t being set up for a big fall, by falsely thinking that they are really good at something when they’re not.
Setting goals will also help to build their self-esteem, while Eileen said that it is crucial to build up a trusting relationship.
Sometimes it can be hard to talk to children about difficult subjects and in this case, Eileen recommended texting each other or writing it down.
She concluded with a quote from Alvin Price which really sums up what parents should be doing for their children: “Parents need to fill a child’s bucket of self-esteem so high that the rest of the world can’t poke enough holes to drain it dry”.
Speaking about the importance of being a parent, John Lonergan made the point that while people are trained for most professions, parenting is the most important job anyone will have and yet very few people are actually prepared for it.
He said that parents need to accept their child and their interests and abilities, so as not to make them do activities or subjects that they really aren’t interested in.
Chatting is something that should be part of every parent/child relationship, according to John, who said that when a child approaches a parent to tell them something, they should just listen and try not to judge.
Non negotiable ‘no-no’s’ in John’s book included put downs, which can leave a damaging mark that they will never forget, comparisons, which are always unfair as there is always a loser in a comparison, arguing, getting angry and being negative.
TIPS AND HINTS TO STAY SAFE ONLINE
* Keep a computer in the family room and control the amount of time they are online.
* Don’t allow mobile phones to be used at night time in bed.
* Create different user accounts for members of the family on the computer, with different safety features appropriate to ages.
* Talk to your children and create a free dialogue around what they do online and who they talk to.
* Visit some of these websites for help and support: www.internetsafety.ie www.webwise.ie www.watchyourspace.ie and www.childline.ie.