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Why our kids won’t get caught up in the web

The internet’s bad for children, says a former Play School presenter, but Helen Carson asks parents here if she is over-reacting .

Laptops, mobile phones and social networking are all part of our children’s lives now, but are they causing ‘psychological damage’ to the next generation?

Former Play School presenter and now Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Floella Benjamin has claimed too much time spent on the internet is bad for children.

Not only this, but youngsters are being exposed to ‘damaging material’ such as pornography, violence and cyber bullying on a daily basis when online. And she has renewed her call for parents to ban children from having access to TVs in their rooms.

We catch up with parents of young children to find out if they agree.

Rachel Harriott Bishop (36) lives in Belfast with her husband Craig Bishop (41) and their two children Jake (9) and Evie (5). Rachel owns and runs PR company Harriott Communications. She says:

“Jake doesn’t have a TV in his room as he does his homework there. We spend time together as a family in the living room where we watch TV. I don’t like the idea of him sitting up in his room stuck in front of a TV. I want him to come down and talk to us.

He uses the computer and YouTube in particular for researching things, but we keep an eye on him when he does. We never let him online on his own. If there is a toy he wants for his birthday then he will get it up on YouTube to see how it works.

He also plays rugby both at school and club level as he and his dad are season ticket holders for Ulster. If there is anything he wants to know about rugby he will look that up on the computer.

He isn’t interested in Facebook and doesn’t use the computer in a conversational way, but more as a reference tool.

I think the internet is good if it is used in an appropriate way. It is a form of communication. I’m sure there are books in libraries that we shouldn’t be exposing ourselves to, but no one thinks they are bad.

My children are 21st century children and the internet is part of that, and they should be educated to make best use of it. If Jake wants a TV in his room when he

is older then I won’t deny him that, if he asks for it.”

Gill McNeill (49), a freelance journalist and PR consultant, is married to Ted McNeill (49). They live in Belfast and have one son Max (11). She says:

“I got Max a Netbook at Christmas but there is no internet on it, so he mostly uses Ted’s PC. I have an AppleMac which Max would use for homework as it is better for graphics.

Like most children he needs to use the computer to download things for homework. We do restrict Max’s computer use to one hour a day and four hours at the weekend. There are parental controls on the PC and we try to keep him to set times, but it is very difficult.

He had his own YouTube account but that requires a password. He’s not on Facebook or Twitter and there is no internet access on his mobile phone. I bought

him a cheap one for that reason. He does text, but I don’t mind him doing that. I have warned him about the dangers of the internet and that just because someone tells you they are 18 and live in San Francisco doesn’t mean they are. They could be 48 and a paedophile.

I am very straight with him because I want him to know. The amount of time he spends on the computer is a constant source of dissension in our house. He likes to write stories and that is the creative side of him. He is also very interested in the ‘techie’ side of it too. He loves to see inside iPhones and Blackberrys to see how they work.

I do try to get him to do other things and I think there is a danger if children spend too much time on a computer they are living in a virtual world.

They should do other things like getting outdoors and doing things offline. However, computers are part of life just like TV and they have positive aspects, it’s all about getting the balance right.

Max no longer has a TV in his room, but has a pull-down screen for his Wii, but that was more about getting it out of the living room. I think TVs are ok in older children’s room, but it could be too much of a distraction for a younger child who could end up sleep deprived.

Max is more likely to sneak his Nintendo DS into his room before he goes to bed — we have to frisk him to make sure it isn’t up his pyjama sleeve.”

Downtown Radio presenter Caroline Fleck (40), lives in Coleraine with her 14-year-old son Jack. She says:

“Jack is at that age where he uses the internet every day for his homework, such is the curriculum and the demands put on children now.

I definitely don’t agree with Floella Benjamin’s opinion that the internet is damaging. She is living in a different age and is a Luddite in my opinion.

I am more concerned about social networking sites like Facebook than use of the internet. When you are a parent of a teen there is only so much you can do to protect them just like our parents had to do to protect us. I can’t protect him when he goes to his friends’ homes — it’s just like watching an 18 movie. All you can do is try to teach your children right and wrong while making them aware of the dangers.

We are living in an internet age. You teach your children and hope to God that they stay within those parameters. Jack is on Facebook as am I.

I’m more concerned about who his friends are, does he know these people? He’s not as big an addict of it as some people as he prefers to have a real conversation rather than a virtual one.

I have parental controls on the computer. If you don’t have these then you are not protecting your children 100%.

Jack did have a TV in his room which he only used for his Xbox, but it is gone now. I agree with Baroness Benjamin on that one.”

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