I recently watched a 2011 movie “Trust” that tells the story of a teenage girl, Annie, who on her 14th birthday receives the laptop she has been asking for. She promptly takes it to her room and enters the social world of the Internet. She meets a boyfriend online named Charlie. She talks to her parents about how wonderful Charlie is.
By the end of the movie (spoiler) we learn that Charlie is in fact a married man with a child who “grooms” Annie to meet with him, go to a hotel room where he videos sexually assaulting her.
Taking an Internet-safe stance with our children is important/ imperative. This is particularly important in Singapore where many International Schools require students to have a computer from Grade 6 (age 11/12). An age when they are not necessarily equipped to understand the possible repercussions and necessary responses to Internet problems.
Some basics of Internet safety include:
Computers must be used in public spaces. As a parent and a counsellor I have learned that many youth in Singapore use their computers alone in their rooms. This means that our youth are given full unsupervised, electronic access to the Internet. However, this freedom is something we would not allow them to have in other areas of their life. The obvious advantage for public use of computers is that parents can see how their children are using the computer. The less obvious effect is that youth’s behaviour will be positively constrained because of the social conscience of using the computer in an observed space.
Computers and other electronics (including phones) are left to charge in a common area or in the parents’ room overnight. Children need to shut down and get a good nights rest. Michael Gregg-Carr, an Australian psychologist, prioritizes Internet safety and sleep (along with minimal drugs and alcohol) in the top most important issues for parents to monitor and influence.
Parents specify when they give a computer to their child that the computer belongs to the parents; it is for the youth’s use.Parents have passwords for their child’s computer and accounts. As soon as children receive their first computer, unless clarified by the parents, assume that their computer is private. As private as we felt our diaries were when we were children. We were upset (justifiably) if our parents read our diaries. The difference was having a private place to pour out our personal angst on an unresponsive piece of paper compared to our youth pouring out their angst in a public space and getting a response from all of their friends and their friends.
These guidelines are a starting place from which restrictions will taper off, offering greater freedom as we prepare our children to leave home and live independently.