Time for PAGi & parents to link up

PARENTS, here's another wake-up call.
The message from the kids is clear: They need more help

A survey conducted by the Parents Advisory Group for the Internet (PAGi) reveals that while 81 per cent of parents trust their children to behave responsibly online, only 46 per cent of the children feel the same way about themselves.

True, the survey does reveal that parents are more aware of - and concerned about - Internet dangers than their children.

But they're also more likely, it seems, to give their youngsters the benefit of the doubt.

It's a laudable example of an enlightened, light-touch approach to parenting, certainly.

But the message from the kids is clear: They need more help.

The confidence gap between parents and children is somewhat surprising and of some concern.

Already, some studies suggest that nearly half of all youngsters have accessed porn or been propositioned online.

But the more prurient dangers of the Internet are relatively easy to identify.

Our youngsters could well be asking for adult guidance on subtler issues

Our youngsters could well be asking for adult guidance on subtler issues - what to do when confronted with a hate site, how to deal with the disturbing images on rotten.com, where to draw the line between a friendly chat and a risky proposition.

It's complicated by the fact that children are often given freer access to the Net in their teens, a time when adolescent changes can add to the confusion.

Consider this: PAGi's survey reveals that teens between 13 and 15 years old were the least concerned about the dangers of the Net.

Parents may have an inferior grasp of the technology, compared to their wired kids, but the ethical issues and psychological impact of the Web go beyond technical expertise.

After all, cyberspace is, by and large, an adult world.

And it's a realm in which our children - to their credit - feel rather out of their depth.

One solution: Nothing short of old-fashioned, roll-up-your-sleeves good parenting.

Instead of leaving kids to their own devices or, in the care of a filtering software like NetNanny, parents should treat the Internet as their children's first exposure to the adult universe.

They should be on hand to discuss difficult issues arising from their kids' surfing experiences and take a healthy interest in their childrens' hobbies and pursuits.

And they should be prepared to deal with hardcore themes like sex, death and religion much sooner than they'd expect to.

One heartening implication of PAGi's survey: If children feel ill-equipped to manage their own online behaviour, it's also because they want to learn HOW to be responsible, and not be sheltered from the harsh reality of cyberspace.

So, parents' trust in their kids is not misplaced.

Heavy-handed policing of kids in cyberspace, or preventing them from logging on, would be counter-productive. But, as the survey rightly suggests, complacency is not an option.

Here's where PAGi can step up.

The advisory body has done a commendable job in raising public awareness of cyberspace hazards and helping parents get savvy with the Net.

But, so far, they've only gone to the extent of offering ''best practices'' in online safety and organising forums.

Now that the alarms have been sounded about the pitfalls of the Internet, it's not enough to expect parents to manage on their own.

And PAGi is still the public body that's best placed to offer hands-on help.

More could be done to equip both parents and children with the concrete skills they'd need to cope in a more wired world.

PAGi should move beyond basic tech courses, helpful tips and broad recommendations to imparting core skills: Teaching parents to open up channels of communication with kids, or illuminating common concerns which youngsters might be embarrassed or hesitant to talk to their parents about.

How about a hotline, or hands-on workshops where concerned parents can get help in counselling their kids on the hazards and bewildering ethical morass of cyberspace?

Perhaps PAGi could consider developing a Net-savvy curriculum for parenting in the digital age.

It could offer professional assistance to families who feel they are unable to deal with Net-related issues, or help Internet Service Providers fine-tune their Family Access Networks.

If anything, PAGi's survey has shown that it's not enough to leave parents and kids to their own devices.

Timely intervention at this juncture could secure the next generation's confidence and comfort level in dealing with the Internet responsibly.

It could even enhance the quality and efficacy of modern parenting.

There's no better time for PAGi to move from Advice to Action.

© alvin pang
clm : rvw : esy : rfl