"I was beginning to think that a ghost of some sort was taking up residence in my apartment, for each time I signed out from YouTube, I would find that I was miraculously signed back in". This was the dilemma of a Christian parent who in an attempt to clear the conundrum, decided to watch the computer from a distance.
And sure enough, and to her amazement, her little child, not yet three, climbed up on a chair, sat before the computer, pressed a button, then another, and started playing music on YouTube.
It sounds unbelievable but let me help you see how easily this could happen, even in your home. Remember that your children watch and learn, and when you are not around, will repeat the steps you make as easy as 1-2-3.
It's the same for this new generation of whiz kids joining Facebook by using fake birthdates and then bingo, they are on the network. Just last week I got a prompt on Facebook that a certain person was having a birthday and would be 41 years old. I knew for a fact that this person was only nine years old. Can you see what can happen if a man is communicating with a nine-year-old girl who has advertised herself to the world as a grown woman? Since they know that they are in the wrong, most times these kids do not post genuine photos, so 'friends' may not realise that they are befriending underage kids.
If you ask children what they are doing on Facebook, many will tell that that they join to play games. I have viewed the games and most of them are really innocent. I even play and enjoy some of the games. Still, we must always remember that children are very curious so after they have exhausted the game playing they are going to follow the crowd. They are going to explore.
The most dangerous and creepy part, of course, is when children accept friend requests from strangers. These friends can even be paedophiles who will lure children to do bad things. I trembled when I found out that an eight year old had, on his friends list, someone about five times his age — a foreigner who had faced murder charges. To date, he cannot explain why he accepted or invited this friend. He is clueless about where the person is from and why the person was on his friends list. He is totally clueless about what he did, why he did it, or how it happened.
If you allow your children on Facebook, do you counsel them about using the network? Do warn them to be careful? Do you check to see who their friends are? Do you check to see if they are adhering to your rules or do you just leave them to be occupied and out of your way?
Since it is the norm to have computers in our homes, since our kids are now computer savvy, and since we can no longer breathe without technology, here are some things that you can do to protect your kids from some of the dangers of cyberspace.
1. Tell the 'kids' what you expect of them. Tell them what it is that they should be doing on the computer. Tell them that you expect them to abide by your rules even when you are not in view. Another thing, children will tell you that they have to do their school work. Put the guidelines in place, so that even if they have to do homework, the rules will still apply.
2. Try as best as possible to be around when your kids are using the Internet. If you can't always be there, ask an adult to supervise them where possible. Time is of the essence, so sometimes you will be tempted to leave young children at home and just tell them to watch television or play games on the computer until you return. Yes, this seems to work and can even keep children out of trouble when you are gone out on important errands. The downside though, is that bad things can happen when you are away. One mistake can be fatal.
3. Do not start treating the computer like the devil, a dirty enemy. All you have to do is make sure that you explain the advantages and disadvantages of the device to your children when you know that they are able to understand what you are saying. Never let them feel that you are using the computer as punishment, let them see that you love them and you care about their well-being so that is why you have the guidelines in place.
4. Model for your children what you want them to do. Do not abuse technology and expect them not to do the same. If you are addicted to technology how can you expect to teach your kids to be otherwise? Get help if you feel you are addicted, for children live what they learn.
Jacqueline Champier is a counselling psychologist from Mandeville.