Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Digital life challenges, for parents and children

A presentation to parents in CPC last evening concluded a day during which forensic psychologist Dr Maureen Griffin spoke with First and Fifth Year students and their teachers about dealing with the challenges of social media and the digital world, writes Brian Byrne.

A specialist in dealing with such issues as internet sex offenders, Dr Griffin is a consultant who works with the Garda and the Prison Service as well as talking in schools about how young people and their parents can make their connection into the digital world a safer experience.

While her presentations to the children and the adults were different, they shared underlying principles about life on social media, outlining the potential dangers in general and in specifics about particular platforms. In essence, the key safeguards for the young people are to have as 'friends' only people they know, to keep their profile information private, and not to share passwords.

Dr Griffin also touched on specific dangers, such as false social media accounts designed to lure youngsters to provide personal information and images which can then be used on extreme external sites. "Children are 'digital natives' and have amazing confidence with the technology," she said to the parents, in the evening presentation hosted by the CPC Parents Association. "But they are also very vulnerable."

Her advice to the parents included keeping the tech devices 'out of the bedroom' and allow use only in a family area of the home. "I'm very aware of the benefits of the technology, I use it every day myself. But it should be kept in its place."

She also said the parents should talk to their children about the dangers, and to encourage them to tell their parents if anything happened online that made them feel uncomfortable. She also suggested setting limits on the amount of time, and the levels of access children have to the internet.

Dealing with the proliferation of mobile phones amongst children, Dr Griffin outlined ways of handling such issues as cyber-bullying and 'sexting', and highlighted the impacts which online bullying can lead to, ranging from anxiety stress through depression and even suicide in extreme cases. She said parents should make sure they know their children's mood and behaviour patterns and usual phone use. "If there's a change, then something may be happening to your child."

In her concluding remarks, Dr Griffin stressed that parents should be instilling 'a sense of caution' in their children about their digital experiences, and 'not a sense of fear'.

There are links to a number of helpful sites on Dr Griffin's website.

Pictured are CPC teacher Margaret Kenny, who organised the talks; College Principal Catherine Moynihan; Dr Maureen Griffin; and Joan Murphy of the CPC Parents Association.