Art by Hannah Dear
I have four lovely daughters. The youngest are Catriona (14 y), and Hannah (18 y). As I watch them grow into beautiful young women, I feel a very strong parental emotion – how it is to be a doting father.
They’re both cyber-kids, crazy on Googling on the Net and txting. Though Catriona isn’t really into social networking, being more of a txter, she is likely to follow her older sister who is a bit of a wiz-kid with the old Bebo and thinks nothing of whacking her digital photos into Photoshop and tickling them up to her high standard before posting them on the Net.
Hannah is so into social networking. She even dances about it. Her school dance and drama group, of which she is a member, won a prestigious award at the Mission-on 2008 Stage Challenge sponsored by SUPRÉ. And the title of their performance? “Don’t Get Caught In The Web”, a dance drama based on social networking.
I have no fear for my children, but maybe I should have. Some of the statistics I learnt about at the recent NetSafe Conference 2008 made me sit up and think again about the friendly PC sitting on our desk at home. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I left the conference.
“Teenagers look on online communities like a night club”, said keynote speaker Jeff Cole. They are always looking to the ‘new club’, the ‘new thing’. Many see cyberspace as an escape into their world – free from adult supervision. As long as no one else sees what they’re up to, they’re safe. They feel they are invincible, untouchable, in cyberspace.
The thing is that young kids don’t necessarily have the maturity to realise the consequences of what they get up to on the Net. And it would appear that giving them an ear-bashing doesn’t do much to accelerate their development in this area. In the many conference sessions I attended over the 3 day period, concerns were expressed about the critical areas:
privacy and cameras
piracy and illegal file sharing
$US3 billion per year
While New Zealand was reported as being among the best-protected citizens in the world from online child pornography, its incidence elsewhere did not make me feel complacent. Peter Mancer, managing director of Internet Service Provider Watchdog, reported that child porn was returning $US3 billion per year, a 5 fold increase since 2001. The exploitation of young children under the age of 5 in this trading is stomach churning.
The responsibility of the key people to attempt to do something about all this was leveled in many directions from the parent, through search engines, Internet Service Providers, to the governments of the countries involved. It is complex. I had such a headache at the end of the Conference (I wasn’t alone). I felt as if that was my penance for bringing my daughters into this world.
As a citizen, a teacher and a parent, clearly the most influential function as a protector of children is in my role as a parent. This was brought out several times during the many sessions at NetSafe Conference 2008. Parental supervision and the need for the parent to understand the vulnerability of the child, the need to ‘get into their world’ and the need for compassionate vigilance were key discussion points.