Penny Dessena said her 13-year-old daughter, Kaelyn, has never proven untrustworthy regarding her computer usage. Even so, Dessena recently reminded Kaelyn that accessing the Internet from her bedroom with her wireless laptop computer is a no-no. She also allows Kaelyn to have a MySpace page — provided she has her daughter’s password and user name.
Overprotective? Nosy? Not guilty on both counts, Dessena pleads.
Rather, she feels these are necessary steps to keep her child safe in a world where e-mail, text-messaging, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, iPods and iPhones are fast becoming ingrained into our daily lives. With these advances come such dangers as sexual predators, pornography and cyberbullies — and warding them off is a real problem when children are more computer-savvy than their parents.
"Kids know how to use this technology, and it’s tough for parents and educators to stay one step ahead of them," Dessena observed.
Dessena approaches this topic as a concerned parent and a technology expert. She serves as the Web-site administrator for St. Ann School in Hornell, is a past computer teacher there and belongs to the school’s recently formed technology-action team. She offers several suggestions for parents regarding computer safety:
* Limit the time of day and amount of time your children are online.
* Equip your computer with filters and such safe search engines as netTrekker.
* Limit your children’s Internet access to a public area of the house. "The best filter in the world does not replace supervision," Dessena said.
* Stress to your children the importance of being discreet online — not posting information that might be copied and used against them. "The cardinal rule of the Internet is once it’s there, it’s there. You cannot retract it," Dessena said.
* Know your children’s passwords and user names on social-networking sites. "I want to monitor who (Kaelyn) allows in as friends, just like I would if she had them to our house," Dessena noted.
Dessena emphasized that it’s not Kaelyn she doesn’t trust, but the material and messages she might encounter. In her own Internet surfing Dessena said she’s "stumbled upon sites inadvertently that completely shock me," so she wants to minimize the possibility of the same thing happening to her daughter. Kaelyn acknowledged the existence of such dangers, and for that reason she accepts her mother’s protective measures.
"She has no reason not to trust me, so it does stink a little bit. But I understand where she’s coming from. Mainly I am in agreement with that," said Kaelyn, who graduated in June from St. Ann School and will start at Hornell High School in the fall.
Dessena added that safety issues are not limited to computers. A top current concern for her is cyberbullying — the transmittal of intentionally hurtful messages both on the Internet and via cell phones.
"Kids are saying mean things, things they would never say to someone face to face. The impersonal nature of technology, and the false sense of anonymity it affords, lends itself to this form of bullying," Dessena said, adding that messages can be so hurtful that some victims have reportedly committed suicide.
Both Dessena and her daughter also acknowledged the many positive sides to these technological advances. For instance, Kaelyn said text messaging is a great way to communicate with people she rarely sees in other states and towns.
"We’re definitely more involved in each other’s lives," she said.
On the other hand, Dessena is concerned not only with safety but overuse as well. A recent family phone bill revealed that Kaelyn had sent 4,794 text messages the previous month — a rate of about 160 a day.
"Texting is the thing I do almost constantly. It’s like an addiction," Kaelyn admitted.
Dessena said she doesn’t mind Kaelyn using technology for social reasons but added, "I don’t want to see her texting at the dinner table. One of the most important things you can do is learn to walk away from your gadgets."
Yet what if her daughter were made to walk away from them for an extended period of time?
"First, I’d probably scream. I’d go crazy," Kaelyn remarked. "It would be tough. It’s almost like a lifestyle now."