You’ve probably heard about the underage sex case of Joshua Robinson, the American MMA instructor sentenced to four years in jail for sexually assaulting two 15-year-old girls he met online here (among other charges such as possession of child porn). Yes, it’s virtually impossible to completely child-proof the world wide web, and taking Internet access away from your kid may result in World War III at home. So what’s the next best option to ensure your children don’t fall prey to online dangers like cyber-bullying and scams? We ask celeb parents and an expert who’s part of the Better Internet Campaign, which focuses on cyber wellness issues and aims to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology, especially among children and young people.
Scenario #1: Your child has been the victim of cyber-bullying.
DARREN LIM, 45, who has four children aged 3 to 12, with former actress Evelyn Tan
“My eldest daughter has actually experienced that and I had a chat with her. I told her that she can’t please everyone and if her friend is blackmailing her emotionally, she should consider if that person is worthy of being her friend. I told her to speak to her friend and see if they can talk things through privately. Kids look at friendships with paramount importance and things like hate comments or cyber-bullying can affect their self-worth and confidence. As parents, what we can do is talk to them and give them our support and advice.”
CHEW CHOR MENG, 48, who has two daughters aged 13 and 15
“It’s very simple. I tell them to ignore and delete the comments. There’s no point in challenging the bully and replying with even more negative stuff. That will only create more unnecessary drama. If she knows the bully in real life, I’d ask her to report the incident to the teachers.”
EDMUND CHEN, 56, who has a 17-year-old daughter and 26-year-old son, with Xiang Yun
“My daughter went through that when she was in secondary four. Her good friend had said very hurtful things about her on Twitter. We were very shocked ’cos we know the girl too and she is a very nice person in real life. My daughter was very disturbed and devastated, and we brought the incident up with their teacher. Fortunately, our family is very close, and we tell each other everything, so she doesn’t have to deal with something awful like this alone.”
The expert says: “Talk with and listen to your children and give them unconditional support. Do not minimise the situation or make excuses for the aggressor. Collect evidence (print out or screen cap the conversations, messages, pictures etc) and report to the school or relevant authorities,” says Ms Iris Lin, Assistant Director, Fei Yue Community Services and Media Literacy Council member.
Scenario #2: An older guy has been sending your teen indecent messages on social media.
DARREN: “I’d lure that fellow out and beat the hell out of him. I don’t have to be politically correct all the time. If someone tries to harrass my daughter, that’s what I’d do, and then take him to the police station.”
CHOR MENG: “I’d ask her to ignore the messages. If it’s very inappropriate, then I’d confront the other party and have a talk with him. I’d also report the incident to her teachers. I’d tell my daughter to stay calm and not to be scared, as I’d deal with it on her behalf.”
EDMUND: “I think my children will know how to deal with it better than me. They are very wise and they choose their friends wisely. If anything, they’ll tell me.”
The expert says: “It is important to let your teen/child know that what the other party did was wrong and inappropriate, and also remember to gather proof to report to the authorities.”
Scenario #3: Someone might be scamming your teen online and asking him/her for money.
DARREN: “I’d ask my kids what the whole thing is about, and how long they’ve been in contact with the person, and I’d take over from there. My wife and I are very involved with our children’s lives and we watch over all the things they do, and showing them attention is important so that they don’t feel lost and neglected and look for attention online by chatting with strangers.”
CHOR MENG: “When it comes to money, they always have to inform me or their mum. If need be, I can refer the person to our church and see if the church can help. Who knows? The person may really need the money. We are not in a position to judge sometimes. I’d also ask my daughters to watch Crimewatch so that they can be more informed about the dangers of the Internet.”
EDMUND: “So far nothing like this has happened to them. They’re very selective of their friends, so if anything like this happens, they’d always inform me first. I think we’ve built a strong and close relationship with our kids in a way that they’d share everything with us.”
The expert says: “Again, convey unconditional support. Talk with and listen to what your child has to say. It is important to let your teen know that what the other party did was wrong and inappropriate. Collect evidence and report to the relevant authorities.”
Scenario #4: Your child has been buying a lot of items online, but you aren’t sure if these websites are reliable.
DARREN: “Yeah, the other day my son was telling me that a website was giving away free iPhones. So I explained to him that nothing in the world comes for free (laughs). My kids respect the fact that we are the ones paying for their shopping, so they’d usually ask for permission first, even if it’s purchasing an app on an iPad. If they really want something online, we’d do the shopping together and we as adults can discern whether the site is reliable or legit.”
CHOR MENG: “With the rise in popularity of e-commerce, it’s not only the kids who might get cheated. Recently, my wife had to key in some personal details just to view a product online, so she did that, and she was sent a bill for the item even though she didn’t buy it. I tell my daughters to be careful when shopping online and to buy from established websites like EZBuy and Zalora instead.”
EDMUND: “These days, kids are quite smart — they check reviews and ratings before they buy online. Of course, I need to pay for them using a credit card so I applied for a new credit card with a $1,000 credit limit. Even if there’s any online fraud, I won’t get cheated of too huge an amount (laughs).”
The expert says: “Check the reliability and authenticity of the websites together with your teen. This way, you can bond and build trust together. If your teen insists on buying, limit the purchase or your child’s allowance.”
Scenario #5: Your kid is glued to his/her phone 24/7.
DARREN: “My children only get to use electronic devices, including watching TV, for one hour each on Saturday and Sunday [and never on weekdays]. If they have to use it for studying, it’d be under the supervision of my wife. It’s been like that since day one, so they respect the rules and they don’t whine about it. As parents, we have to watch over what they are exposed to as the Internet can be dangerous and they can accidentally visit sites that aren’t suitable for them.”
CHOR MENG: “It’s hard to impose restrictions on their Internet usage these days as a lot of their school work requires the Internet as well. I have no choice but to let them use it. However, if I see them using Snapchat or Instagram, I’ll nag (laughs). Also, if it’s nearing their exam period, I’d usually ask them to leave their mobile phones with me for a few hours while they study so that they can focus.”
EDMUND: “As much as I want to restrict their Internet use, I think they are old enough now to know what they are doing online. Sometimes, I’d nag at them not to keep using the Internet but it stops there. I’d encourage them to read a book instead as their eyesight might deteriorate if they spend too many hours on their computers.”
The expert says: “Set clear guidelines — games/surfing of the internet can only be done after the child has fulfilled other responsibilities. Limit the time spent on gaming or the Internet per day. Keep the computers, laptops, and consoles out of the child's room. Set parental controls on devices.”