FROM WILLIAM: Raising a 12 yr old neurotypical son, who is now taller than his mom and is slowly catching up to me, is a delight and a challenge. He is at a time in his life when he wants to be treated like an adult and have much more freedom (and he tells us this on a regular basis!) yet still has the inexperience and vulnerability of a boy. It’s an exciting time for him as he makes choices about who he wants to be now and the direction he wants to go in as he grows into a man.

One of our challenges as parents of teenagers is how to help, guide and keep them safe as they play in cyberspace. Whether we like it or not the Internet can be very influential in what perspectives and beliefs about the world our children will take on. It has also become an incredible social networking tool. A recent study found that teenagers use their computers an average of 47 hrs a week (Facebook, instant messaging, surfing the net, gaming, etc.) The internet is the door way to the sea of human consciousness – if you can think it then you can probably find it somewhere in cyberspace. This means you will find all the wonderful aspects of our world that you want your child to know about as well as all the things you do not want them to be exposed to and be influenced by (i.e. pornography, etc.).

So how do we let them play and learn in cyberspace while also protecting them?!?! Well last night our local school had a parents night to educate us on the internet, particularly the latest social networking tool – Facebook. The presenter was a local law enforcement official who specializes in this area and did a great job pointing us in the right direction. I want to pass on some of the guidelines they recommended, that I found very useful and hopefully will help you:

High Traffic Area: Have the computer that your child uses located in a high traffic area within the house – kitchen, dining room, etc.

History Rule: For computer usage – your child can only use the computer as long as the history of what websites have been visited is not wiped clean or cleared from the computer’s memory. If it is, then they lose use of the computer for a set period of days, weeks, months, (you choose.) Note the same should apply to any ITouch, IPhone, etc. which can access the internet – each of them also has a history page that can be checked.

Password Rule: You as the parent are to know all passwords, especially for social networking programs (Facebook, MySpace, instant messaging, etc.) If your child goes missing the first question the police will ask you is, “Does your child use a social networking program and if so what is the password?” The companies that own and operate these programs will need legal paperwork to release the password to the police and this could take vital hours to get.

Parent Control Software: Use parent control software programs to limit what places on the Internet your child can visit.

Talk to your child: Educate your child about what is smart to share about themselves and what not to. If they want to be on Facebook etc. walk them through the set-up – there are many ways to limit what is shared and who you share it with. Help them learn how to look after themselves.

Regarding Facebook: You need to be at least 13 to use it. They suggest that you (the parent) become a Facebook member and become a ‘friend’ of your child. Children tend to be BULLIED by people they know, so being one of your child’s Facebook friends will help you monitor any such activity.

Use an Avatar: Do not have your child post a picture of themselves, instead have them put up an Avatar (this is an image that represents your child, i.e. a cartoon character, etc.) There are websites where you can get free avatar images.

If you have further questions about how to do any of these suggestions – talk to someone you know who is computer smart or talk to a teacher or technician in your school’s computer department. Educate yourself so that you can help your child grow and learn to be the adult you want him or her to be.

One last thing – your attitude as you present these new rules and guidelines is essential. Having a clear purpose for yourself will help you stay loving and clear as you talk to your child. When I talk to my son I focused on this purpose: I love my son and I want to keep him safe as he learns about the world.

Happy parenting!!

With love and smiles,

William