Catholic Outlook, Greg Whitby, July 2016
Many parents are fearful of their children becoming active online. We’ve all heard the horror stories in the news. Yet many parents and grandparents are actually the first to develop an online presence for their youngsters.
By some estimates, the average parent posts about 1000 images of their child online before his or her fifth birthday. It’s a much, much more public version of the old-fashioned “brag-book”.
In fact, most adults, me included, use the internet frequently on a daily basis, including the use of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Given the prevalence of the internet and social media, rather than fear their involvement, it is crucial that we teach our young people responsible online behaviour to keep them safe.
As parents and educators, supporting children as they develop their social skills is a major part of our role – the use of “social” media is no different. Though the social settings we grew up with have changed, our duty to prepare younger generations to participate in a respectful and responsible way has not.
If we fail in this duty, there’s a risk that young people will view online spaces as morally neutral. As a result, we become part of the problem and promote “anti-social” content.
Preparing our children and students to make a positive contribution to society, including through their activities online, is a must. This is what we mean by “digital citizenship”.
Part of our responsibility as parents and educators is to ensure that young people’s use of technology is age-appropriate. This requires a high level of supervision but, unfortunately, it cannot prevent children from being exposed to anti-social material on the internet.
By taking an active role in monitoring and limiting access, as needed, we can assist in preparing young people for future independent and responsible online use. This includes honest conversations about predatory behaviour and confronting or inappropriate images.
To help parents and educators raise this issue with their children and students we have created a resource called Cyberwise, which encourages young people to Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible online.
I am very proud of our students from St Mark’s Catholic College, Stanhope Gardens, who recently created and produced a short film as part of this resource. It is a creative way to communicate a very important message. I encourage you to watch this video with your children or students and talk about the importance of cyber safety.
On 16 July 2016, we welcomed our new Bishop, Most Rev Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv, and on behalf of our staff and families I look forward to working with him in our mission of Catholic education.
Greg Whitby is Executive Director of Schools in the Diocese of Parramatta.
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