Learn lessons on a wired world

Workshop on social media will offer tips to help kids stay safe as they socialize online

Clint van Blanken

Clint van Blanken

Cpl. Todd Balaban estimates his teen daughter’s Blackberry buzzes every 15 seconds, vibrating when friends update their status, send or receive messages, post pictures, or tweet.

“Quite frankly, it drives me nuts,” says Balaban, whose insight into the wired world of teenagers comes first-hand through his four kids.

The first thing he noticed when he returned from a year spent training police in Afghanistan was: The big World Wide Web had gone mobile.

Everything you once did on a large desktop computer was compactly packed into a little smartphone.

“I come back and it’s gone from Hotmail and MSN to Black Berry Messenger being the biggest thing,” he says.

“Mobility has become a big thing for kids. There is no downtime for kids anymore. They are being instantly notified of everything that’s going on.”

According to an Ipsos Reid study, 76 per cent of Canadian teenagers aged 12 to 17 now have a social network profile, up from 50 per cent in 2007.

These days when something happens inside or outside a classroom, it is not just the small group of people present who know about it, it’s out everywhere, says Balaban, posted on Facebook, chronicled on Twitter and possibly filmed or photographed.

Photographs of a gang rape last September in Pitt Meadows that went viral after being posted on Facebook show that social media can sometimes open a Pandora’s box of evil.

Investigators struggled to get teenagers to stop sharing the photographs and get websites to take them down.

There are also many stories about people who were stalked by someone they met online, had their identity stolen, or had their computer hacked.

Balaban knows parents sometimes can feel outpaced by their technologically savvy kids. Technology aside, there are lessons that parents can teach to help kids stay safer as they socialize online.

He knows his daughter’s Facebook password and is a friend on her page.

Far from being a snoop, Balaban says, it allows him to stay informed.

“It keeps you in the loop with your child because your child looses their interpersonal skills when they are always online,” he explains.

He’s told his daughter to be careful about who she accepts as friends, make sure the person she’s adding is someone she really knows.

He also takes away the Blackberry until she’s completed her homework.

“You have to find a way to monitoring your child,” says Balaban.

“I know parents get busy, but you have to be on top of it like anything else. It’s a balance for the kids.”

Workshop

Cpl. Todd Balaban is one of three presenters who will be speaking at social networking at a workshop in Pitt Meadows on Wednesday, Feb. 16. The workshop will look at social media staples like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Black Berry Messenger; why social media matters to parents of teenagers and how to notice potential problems. Other speakers: Tony Cotroneo, youth services co-ordinator with parks and recreation; and Tabasom Eblaghie, a professional clinical counsellor.

The workshop takes place from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Pitt Meadows Heritage Hall, 12460 Harris Road.

Social safety

While social networking sites can increase a person’s circle of friends, they also can increase exposure to people with less than friendly intentions.

Tips for helping your kids use social networking sites safely:

• help your kids understand what information should be private;

• explain that kids should post only information that you – and they – are comfortable with others seeing;

• use privacy settings to restrict who can access and post on your child’s website;

• remind your kids that once they post information online, they can’t take it back;

• talk to your kids about avoiding sex talk online;

• tell your kids to trust their gut if they have suspicions. If they ever feel uncomfortable or threatened by anything online, encourage them to tell you;

• go where your kids go online;

• review your child’s friends list;

• understand sites’ privacy policies.

– courtesy www.onguardonline.gov