The world is still reeling from the terror attacks at Christchurch last week. Needless to say, the horror is felt even more keenly by those of us who live here in New Zealand - and perhaps most of all by those of us who live here with our children.
Social media played a central and sickening role in this tragedy. And social media also play a central role in the lives of our sons and daughters. So it’s no wonder that parents are feeling worried about protecting their kids - and utterly confused about what to do next.
Should kids be taken off their devices entirely right now? How do we protect them from online harm when mum and dad aren’t around? And how should parents handle the offline fallout that kids may be experiencing? Because it’s not just the harmful images kids are seeing but the harmful conversations those images have sparked.
For answers, who better to turn to than acclaimed internet safety expert John Parsons? Author of Keeping Your Children Safe Online, Parsons answered parents’ top concerns in a recent exchange with The Spinoff.
How can we protect younger kids right now?
In my opinion we need to keep young children away from social media at least for the next few weeks. The younger they are the harder it is to process major events like the one that has just occurred. We can also deploy parental software controls to provide nurture and parental oversight.
What about teens? Should their devices be taken away?
Teenagers have educational commitments to maintain so taking devices of them is not practical. These devices also connect them with friends and family which in times like these can also provide them with therapeutic support.
There are numerous ways to access information online so it is important to sit down with the young people in our lives and explain to them, based on their age and level of maturity, that there are places on the internet that have images, video, and text that are both illegal and harmful to see.
Explain to them that if they accidentally see something related to the recent tragedy to talk to a teacher, a guidance councillor, their ‘lighthouse’ [a trusted adult support person], or Mum or Dad if they need help to process it. It is also important to emphasise that under no circumstances should they forward or deliberately expose other people to it.
But I can’t control what other kids do - and there are those who continue to share the attack footage at lunchtime and after school.
Over the last seven days I have been reminded all too often of how far this mass murderer’s actions have been made available to the world. I believe thousands of young children have viewed this video. I have listened to two children, 11 years of age, who said “it was like playing a first-person shooter game”. A teacher told me that one of her students had watched the full video with mum and dad.
I am very concerned that as we go forward many of these children are going to need therapeutic support. As a community we need to stay firmly grounded in the fact that a man massacred 50 people in their place of worship, injured many others, left thousands of people who are directly connected to these victims psychologically wounded.
I think as this unfolds with a court case and news coverage, we need to send a message to the world which includes children and it could start like this: Let’s ask the media to block his face permanently in any news article, let’s ask the media to never use his name, let’s all make a pledge between us do the same in conversations in the home, at a barbeque or on the bus to work. We have a right to demand more from online platforms, but there is a lot we can do to clean up our own communication channels.
What if a child has a copy of the live footage on their own device?
The live footage of the massacre has now been classified “objectionable” by our censor’s office and watching it can carry a sentence of 10 years in prison. Parents would do well to remind their children about the classification.
I also suggest parents explain that this deplorable act captured on film should never see the light of day. Tell your children that if they have a copy of the video they should delete it, out of respect for the victims and their families – and of course to protect themselves and family members who may accidentally access it within the home.<John Parsons is an Internet Safety and Risk Assessment Consultant who delivers cyber security training workshops to New Zealand Police and government sector organisations. His book has become a bible for many Kiwi parents.>
How can I encourage my child to be strong enough to walk away from upsetting conversations at school?
I get young children to role-play a lot of potentially stressful situations using what we call chin up, shoulders back. Parents can do this with their children also as follows:
If you see or here something that upsets you, take some deep breaths, lift your chin, put your shoulders back, think of a person you love or trust, remove yourself from the situation and tell that person. Then you have all the power.
If you see or here something that upsets you say “I’m just off to the toilet” then they can remove themselves without feeling embarrassed.
As they walk away teach them to visualise in their mind who they love and or trust and tell them.
Teach them as they walk towards home they walk towards love, as they walk towards school they walk towards trust and in both location s they have people they will support them.
I have listened to two children, 11 years of age, who said “it was like playing a first-person shooter game”. A teacher told me that one of her students had watched the full video with mum and dad.
Facebook say they’ve removed the video - but children are still finding it. We can be done to stop this?
We must demand more action from the online platforms that store and distribute it. The systems were built from day one to make money – this is not a criticism, it’s just a fact. The developers could not conceive back them that this would happen, but it is. So our parents need to contact their politicians and demand action. The developers have created algorithms that track us, send us advertisements, monitor our key strokes, all in pursuit of profit. Again, this is not a criticism, it just highlights they have not focused enough on removal of harmful content. To still have this violence accessible to our children is unacceptable.
I think these large corporations should also be required by law to record any instance of a user attempting to post hate crime material and hate crime material that was successfully posted and then removed. This would include how long it was up and its distribution range, like how many people viewed it and in what areas of the world. If governments worldwide had access to this data, we could at least get an idea of how big the problem is. This would then help government budget for ways to combat and reduce it.
Family Zone Education gives school communities the tools they need to block harmful content both on and off the school network - on any student device. No wonder we're the chosen online-safety provider for over 650 premier schools in Australia and New Zealand and beyond.