SafeOnline Education Society addresses the relatively new phenomena of widespread Internet access and use by children and youth, specifically how young people use this technology in unsafe ways. SafeOnline provides presentations to youth, parents, and classroom educators to increase communication competencies, critical and reflective thinking skills, and personal and social responsibility.
At least one in three adolescents have reported being bullied recently, and 47% of parents reported they have a child who is bullied. In 2012, 15-year-old Amanda Todd committed suicide as a result of cyber-bullying, epitomizing the need for education about online actions. The tragic story served to raise awareness about the consequences of Internet conduct and bullying, while confirming there is much work that needs to be done.
Safe Online strongly emphasizes the importance of parents’ roles in influencing their child’s safe Internet conduct. Although some parents struggle with Internet 101, they should still walk with their children through online spaces. They don’t need to know the technology as well as their children because their role is to share their life experience instead. Parents can help to translate offline values to the online world, such as compassion, kindness, respect for privacy, and awareness of audience. Parents need to have value-spaced conversations with their children about their online conduct.
Besides cyber-bullying and the respectful use of online communication, there is also the issue of addiction to online devices. One couple was at the stage where they had to lock up their son’s gaming console controllers so he knew there was no chance to access it; he was so addicted that he would ransack the entire house if he knew it was hidden somewhere. Other parents might go to bed thinking their kids are sleeping when they are playing games all night instead. The average teenager receives three texts per night in their bedroom. Parents don’t realize it’s affecting their kids’ sleep, which impacts brain development and learning. Some parents might not feel strong enough to say “no devices” in the bedroom. They are overwhelmed by their kids circumventing attempts to limit gaming devices and getting around family filters.
Sadly, parents are the group that attends presentations in the lowest number, even though they are most in need of engagement and education. With SVP’s funding, SafeOnline has polished and professionalized their presence, programs, and promotional material in order to attract larger audiences, including more parents. The Internet is only increasing its prevalence in youth’s daily lives, and a “SafeOnline education” is to be aware of how going online affects child and adolescent development, family communications, and respectful peer relationships.