Parenting tips in a cyber-age

"Nothing you post online is private. Everything you post is permanent," says Merlyn Horton.

Merlyn Horton was keynote speaker at the Community Wellness Workshops Day at CSS on Feb. 2.

Merlyn Horton was keynote speaker at the Community Wellness Workshops Day at CSS on Feb. 2.

Nothing you post online is private. Everything you post is permanent.

Those were the two guidelines Merlyn Horton of SOLOS (Safe Online Outreach Society) brought to about 50 local residents during the keynote address at the end of a Community Wellness Workshop Day held at Clearwater Secondary School on Feb. 2.

Horton started her presentation, Parenting in the Cyber Age, with the story of Jessi Slaughter, an 11-year-old American girl.

Slaughter got into an online dispute with some others and sent out a video of herself threatening to “… pop a Glock in your mouth and make a brain slushy.”

Things escalated from there and Horton’s next video clip showed Slaughter’s father shouting threats into their computer’s camera against those harassing their family.

Things got so bad the family had to go into protective custody, Horton said.

The girl’s family made a number of errors but the first and possibly most important was they allowed her to have her computer and camera in her bedroom, said the SOLOS spokesperson.

“Keep you children’s computer in a public area of your home,” said Horton. “It’s not spying, but it means you’re available if your child needs help.”

Families should establish rules and guidelines about Internet use.

“Your children should treat their password and user information like their toothbrush,” she said. “Don’t share.”

She encouraged parents to observe their child’s behavior.

“Teens need some privacy, but excessive secrecy, hiding and withdrawal should be discussed,” she said.

Horton advised parents to look at the sites their child is interested in, and to be interested in them themselves.

Families should have an online use agreement that includes hours of use, as well as which sites can be accessed and which ones shouldn’t be.

A sample agreement is available at www.fosi.org/resources.

Horton noted that the video-sharing website YouTube and search engines such as Google allow users to filter out the most extreme results.

“You can’t filter all their online experiences and ultimately they will need to acquire internal skills and values in order to make their own decisions,” she added.

The SOLOS spokesperson encouraged those present to periodically search for their own and their children’s names through Google, Dogpile or other search engines, in order to monitor their online profiles.

She noted that it is possible to deactivate a Facebook account but the information belongs to the company will remain on its server forever.

 

More information is available on Horton’s website at www.safeonlineoutreach.com.