November 12, 2010
VHA parents advised on how best to keep kids safe.
Vancouver Hebrew Academy held its annual general meeting last month, followed by a presentation on Internet safety for school-age children by Jessie Miller, a public safety innovator and founder of Miller Consulting Services.
Rabbi Don Pacht, VHA head of school, introduced Miller and briefly spoke about building a school of excellence. He introduced Rabbi Eleazar Durden and Alaina Smith, principals of Judaic and general studies respectively, both new to their positions.
After the meeting adjourned, Miller caught the attention of the audience by asking them to evaluate their current online Internet profiles. Reminiscing about the era when kids had less access to other activities during homework time, he said, kids today are a “generation of multitaskers.” School-age children can socialize, make videos, communicate online and still get good grades, he said.
Unfortunately, not everyone uses the Internet with caution. Miller asked the audience how many Facebook friends they had, and when one member responded, “Eighty,” Miller responded: “That’s a lot of people to control.”
Miller explained that even when we choose certain Facebook privacy settings, we are not necessarily as protected as we think. Friends of friends can read what has been posted on a wall or see photos that have been tagged.
“For every profile, there are security settings, but not every person cares to make their settings private. [Some] people don’t care about their privacy, unless someone comes and bites them on the backside.” Miller believes that this is especially troubling when it comes to kids because, “Kids think they live where people can’t see them.” They too often don’t realize how easy it is for a stranger to glean information, including what they look like, where they go to school, who their friends are and events that they plan to attend, he said.
“Social media is starting to blur the lines between our public lives and our private lives, and kids are blurring the lines between acquaintances and friends,” he cautioned.
Miller believes that there is peer pressure to have many friends on social networking sites, but this demand is no different than any other kind of peer pressure. Parents need to educate their children about the risks of using social networking. “Blocking social media isn’t the answer because it’s changing the way we learn and live … the onus is on the participant. What if there is a photo [of your child] on Facebook that is distasteful? What would you do?” he asked.
What used to be information shared with just some close friends can now be open to anyone, and Miller, who strongly advises Facebook users to “maintain low connections, by picking and choosing who can be on [the friends] list” and by being careful about posting any information about times and places of meetings and names of families and friends involved.
“Ask yourself, how safe am I? How much information do I put online? Who’s looking at it? Where does my information end? Your information is valuable,” warned Miller.
Concluding with advice, Miller reminded parents: “This is happening under our roofs. [Kids] have the ability to connect to the world and the world has the ability to connect to [them]. How can I control the Internet? I can’t. We need to give kids the tools to know how to be appropriate. [We] cannot turn a blind eye to something that 500 million people are using.”
Just as parents can’t necessarily censor the books their children read at the library, they can’t sensor the Internet, he continued. “Facebook gives kids the ability to communicate things like ‘I’m home alone; text me,’ and the skills for everyday stranger-danger [must] apply to social media.”
Elizabeth Nider is a freelance writer living in Richmond.