During the summer holidays, our kids will spend more time online. Siobhan Cronin spoke to internet safety expert Ger Brick about how to ensure they stay safe on the web
MOST parents today are not aware of just how fast technology is moving.
Picture the scene: your son or daughter is in their room, innocently posting a ‘selfie’ on their Instagram, Facebook or Twitter page.
Within seconds, their location is known to an unscrupulous viewer – who can view your home’s location, its GPS co-ordinates, and even a photo of it, if you are on Google Maps.
And no, this doesn’t take some technology-proficient whizz kid or nerd to figure it out. You just need an app – and there any many available – and then load the photo on the app, and bam! you have the time and location of the photograph.
This is one of the exercises which internet expert Ger Brick uses in his presentations on internet safety for children.
He shows the kids how a photo taken of them in their classroom, as an example, can be converted into an image of their location – down to the corner of the room – within seconds.
Think of the consequences of that information getting into the wrong hands. Your daughter and her friends have a ‘sleepover’ while you are away for the night. They let slip they are ‘home alone’ – and now the whole world knows.
In the background of the photo there is some nice jewellery, some valuable electronic items, or an expensive pet. Our kids’ increasing love of ‘sharing’ online can lead to some serious consequences.
But a simple switching off of ‘location services’ on phones and other devices – something most parents are not aware of – can solve this problem.
It’s just one of the many practical tips Ger gives to both parents and students during his information meetings.
Ger urges parents to watch the eerie but very useful ‘Becky’ video from the UK’s web safety programme, which illustrates graphically how putting information online is basically the same as posting your information on a billboard outside your house.
Ger also uses video throughout his talks, showing the risks and dangers of posting personal information online. The programme also includes in-class exercises to engage the children and get them thinking about the need to conduct themselves safely and responsibly online. The underlying theme throughout the entire talk is the word ‘Respect’ and being respectful to others in the online world, just like in the ‘real’ world.
In the classroom, Ger facilitates a discussion with the children about personal information and which of the following pieces of information should you never post online: your real name, your phone number, your home address/school address, group photos, favourite video game, the weather, your email address, and your password.
The responses give Ger a good indication of the level of awareness in class, and makes children realise how much of their personal life should be ‘shared’. Most importantly, Ger explains the potential consequences of sharing each piece of personal information. As adults, we teach our children what not to post online, but often we neglect to explain why. Ger comments that there are two things you should never share in life: your toothbrush, and your password. What’s more, you should change both of them regularly.
Ger also gives concerned parents a step-by-step guide to what happens if they engage the gardai after an incidence of cyber bulling. He also makes the point that it’s worth remembering that your child could be the bully, just as easily as being the victim.
If the threat is taken seriously, the gardai will help you track the origin of messages, and speak with the account holder. They can also seize computers, laptops, phones, etc.
It’s important to remember that even deleted messages and photos can be retrieved, and the more serious cases will probably involve contact with the Garda junveile liaison officer.
Ger usually holds a parents’ information meeting after meeting the students. He gives parents practical information on phone settings and monitoring devices, right down to answers to the simple questions – like how to change the privacy settings on Facebook.
There are great parental software packages available now. For a small yearly fee, they can monitor your child’s web usage, limit it to age-specific sites, and even limit the time they are allowed on the web. Ger gives his opinion on which ones are best, and what exactly they will do for you.
In short, Ger explains that we all need to think before we post anything online. And parents need to educate themselves if they want to be able to deal with issues as they arise. After all, you wouldn’t give a child a car and tell them to drive it, if you didn’t know what was involved yourself, would you?
Ger Brick was recently a guest of Abbeystrewry National School in Skibbereen, where he spoke to children and parents. Ger delivers Cyberbullying and Internet Safety talks nationwide, delivering classes to over 5,000 pupils in more than 90 primary schools this year alone. He can be contacted at [email protected] or 087 6624930