Parents not keen on cyber-wellness talks

Parents not keen on cyber-wellness talks

SINGAPORE - While parents say cyberspace could pose dangers to their children, many are not keen to find out more by attending cyber-wellness talks in schools.

Parents interviewed by The Straits Times claimed these talks do not serve much purpose, as they already know the basics and restrict their children's access to computers and mobile devices.

The issue of cyber safety among younger children came to the fore after it emerged that a Facebook group with more than half a million members is attracting the young.

Many post photos on the site - called "Add anyone you know 2 this group! Beat the most member group on FB! Come on!!!!!!" - and ask for their looks to be rated.

Some even offer contact details to the last individual rating their photos - leading to concerns of cyber bullying and targeting by sexual predators.

Experts said it is crucial for parents to be updated about cyber safety.

"Parents need to pay equal attention to their children's academic progress and social well-being, and that includes knowledge in cyber wellness," said Mr Edmund Tay, a youth pastor and parent blogger who sits on the Media Literacy Council.

South View Primary School principal Jenny Yeo said getting a full house at such talks is a challenge. "Some parents don't see the need to. They might be IT-illiterate and don't understand the need to know more about cyber dangers."

Parents have a different spin on the matter.

Businesswoman Nancy Wong, 36, said while she attended a talk at her daughter's school a few years back, it was her friends who alerted her to Facebook's minimum-age requirements.

"I also have supportive friends who mentioned there was a minimum age to Facebook, and from then on, I said enough, no more Facebook for my kids," said the mother of four children, aged 12, 10, nine and six.

Housewife Gracia Tham, 39, who has two children aged 13 and eight, shies away from talks because "it's common sense and I've my way of supervising them".

She restricts her elder son to using a phone that has no Internet access to make calls.

Sales coordinator Katherine Lai, 46, whose 13-year-old son posted his mobile phone number on the Facebook group in the spotlight recently, said she is not overly concerned. "He should be safe, I trust him."

She also said she did not need to attend talks as her daughter, 17, has not had any problems with social media.

Dr Lim Sun Sun, an associate professor at the Department of Communications and New Media of the National University of Singapore, believes that unless a family has been affected by an online- related incident such as cyber bullying, it is unlikely they will proactively seek out such courses.

She also thinks that mobile devices have become so quickly entrenched in daily living that parents have not had time to consider the implications of letting their children use them.

It is a topic that Touch Cyber Wellness, an arm of voluntary welfare group Touch Community Services, tries to address in talks it conducts in schools for parents.

Parents are advised to utilise the filtering features in their children's phones and monitor their phone bills, said Touch director of youth services Anita Low-Lim.

The Ministry of Education said it is aware that the increasing pervasiveness of social media will present challenges. "We will need to work with parents to step up efforts to educate our children and constantly reinforce values and principles," a spokesman said.

Cyber-wellness lessons are already integrated into the instructional materials of civics and moral education and English lessons in primary schools.

Monitoring a child's online activity is one thing, but active parenting is also crucial, said Mr Richard Seow, chairman of the Fathers Action Network.

Children are looking for affirmation and acceptance from parents and friends, he added, and parents need to learn to channel that through more positive activities such as sports.

Still, the issue of cyber safety will remain a focus for schools. At South View, Mrs Yeo said it has decided to hold talks at Primary 1 orientation from this year - to boost attendance.

"Parents should really plan on being educated on cyber dangers and help their kids," she added.

derrickh@sph.com.sg


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