Where are you when your kids are online?

Just 26% of parents monitor their children’s internet activity on a daily basis

“We’ve evolved well beyond the discussion that the internet is either ‘bad’ or ‘good’, and anyone who still argues the toss on that might as well be arguing about the merits of telephones or bread.” Photograph: Getty Images

“We’ve evolved well beyond the discussion that the internet is either ‘bad’ or ‘good’, and anyone who still argues the toss on that might as well be arguing about the merits of telephones or bread.” Photograph: Getty Images

Mon, Mar 3, 2014, 12:00

Parents of Ireland: take some responsibility for your children’s behaviour. The impact of the internet and social media on identity, conversation, mental health, sexual behaviour, body image, empathy, friendships, relationships, communication skills, distraction, memory and plenty more besides, is huge. Behaviour is changing month on month, year on year. It is now acceptable to walk around with your face glowing from a phone stuck under your chin. Give people a new medium, and they’ll populate it with every element of life – the great, the nasty and everything in between.

We seem to be having a perpetual conversation about the tone of communication online, especially when it relates to children, and around bullying.

That conversation is important. Following a recent survey by the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, much coverage was given to the figures it revealed on bullying. Some 16 per cent of students have experienced bullying online, according to the survey, which is a 33 per cent increase on last year. Perhaps a bit of that increase has to do with awareness around negative online communication and the increased reporting of it, with the first step being educating young people on acquiring an emotional and verbal vocabulary around how that negative communication and experience can be defined.

Far more worrying, however, were other figures in that survey. Just 26 per cent of parents monitor their children’s online activity on a daily basis; 60 per cent of parents over the age of 45 do not monitor their children’s activity online weekly and 15 per cent never monitor it at all. To borrow some internet parlance: parents, WTF?

And it’s not just about how young people talk to each other online. If you combine various research and studies, the average age a child accesses hardcore pornography online is between eight and 11. Children are not just watching people having sex, because people having real sex is not what pornography is about.

Children are watching modern online porn in all of its violent, demeaning, distasteful, bizarre, and unrealistic anti-glory. Cindy Gallop of MakeLoveNotPorn said during an interview I did with her at the Web Summit last year, that a friend of hers had a young son who asked his mother why people wear masks when they’re having sex. So you can only imagine what he was watching.

The experience of the sex education most people who’ve been through a good Irish Catholic school receive ranges from barely there to bizarre, and that gap has always been filled by peer information and the occasional uncomfortable parent-to-child chat. But now, it’s also being filled with pornography, with dire consequences. The only way to counter that destructive force is by parents having honest and open discussions with their children about what they’re seeing online. That goes for pornography, and online communication in general.

We’ve evolved well beyond the discussion that the internet is either “bad” or “good”, and anyone who still argues the toss on that might as well be arguing about the merits of telephones or bread.

Technology promises to connect us; however, more often than not it detaches us. And the consequences of this are not virtual consequences but real-life ones.

Shouldn’t you be checking in on your kids? The excuse that parents are somehow lost in a haze of technology and can’t keep up with this fast-paced internet-y thing is pathetic. I am bored of parents trying to get themselves off the hook by shaking their heads like Bill Cosby-Grandpa Simpson combos perplexed with the hippin’ and the hoppin’ and the Bebo and the Googles. You had the children, talk to them. Outsourcing parenting to teachers and TDs in the hope that some legislative framework and educational guidelines will do the job for you is not parenting. Of course those resources need to be there to assist in education, reporting and support, but the most immediate and important resource is parents getting real with their children’s experiences.

If you don’t know how things work, ask your children to show you the ropes. Who bought them the computer and the phone in the first place? It’s not about being down with the kids, or writing on their Facebook wall like you’re their mate – it’s about overseeing communication that is mostly fine and occasionally potentially harmful. New guidelines and information for teachers and students, such as the Up To Us initiative, are fantastic. But the “Us” includes parents. You know how to raise your children. That’s why, if you bring a child into this world, you have to step up, both online and off.

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