Archive for Thursday, August 21, 2008

Online dangers necessitate education, supervision

August 21, 2008

Even with the days beginning to grow shorter, the weather is still warm and muggy, but there is a tinge of crispness in the air from time to time. We are rapidly approaching my favorite season of the year - autumn. I love the anticipation of harvest, the quickening of pace before the holiday season and those golden days with temperatures moderated to the comfort zone. And, of course, that's when our children return to school.

This year it happened earlier than ever before in my memory. My grandsons are both beginning a new school year - Paul, in seventh grade, and Owen, in second grade. Paul is currently attending classes; Owen won't begin until after Labor Day. That's part of the joy of being a grandparent with several grandchildren spread out along the age spectrum. Following their journey into life keeps one alert and aware of what's happening in our world today.

The complexity of our interactions with each other and the rest of the world is increasing with a dizzying speed. There's always the old social interaction in the family, at school and in the neighborhood. However, a new factor has been added to the heady mix of socialization and education, filling up the days of teenagers and even younger children - the online world of the Internet. I know parents and adults who freeze up at the thought of their children surfing the Net - especially if they are not comfortable with it. Like it or not, we all are affected by the Net and computers these days, even if we don't go near them.

Since computers and the online world are becoming increasingly a part of our lives, we must ensure that our youngsters know how to use them properly. It's true that there are cyber-predators out there, but predators have always been with us, in one form or another. Children must be educated and protected. One's instinct is first to put barriers of all sorts around our children, but we cannot escape the fact that they do grow up and leave us under normal circumstances. They must know what they are facing and how to deal with it. One of the first rules of learning to surf the Net is to be extremely cautious about giving out personal information. Anything which could allow an unknown person to locate or identify the real child must be kept from everybody on the Net other than the most trusted sources.

My grandchildren, even my 2-year old granddaughter, are familiar with computers. Little Charlotte loves to press the keys and move the mouse around. Her big brother Paul loves to play interactive online games more than anything else. My grandchildren in Portland play educational games on the Net. My children and niece and nephews were teenagers in the eighties and nineties, and they all are computer savvy. They use social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace to tell the world about themselves. They use instant messaging and e-mails, post comments to blogs and upload videos to YouTube and other sites for their friends to see and talk about. They walk around with an instant connection via mobile phone to each other and the world. Text messages have changed language and spelling rules. Words like spam, spiders, blogging, viruses, cyberspace, cybercrime, avatar and many more have entered our vocabularies with new meanings, changing our way of thinking as well as speaking.

Along with supervising your child's homework, you should also see that he or she is educated about the use of computers and the Net. Most young parents encounter the Internet and computers in the work place. They should make sure their children are safe and knowledgeable online. Children probably won't get into too much trouble at school or on library computers, which usually have filters in place, but home computers may be much more open, and parents should keep an eye on what their children are doing online. Just as good parents check out their child's friends in real life, they should check out and supervise their child's online friends.

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