David Lawrence and son, Xavier, keep lines of communication open.
David Lawrence and son, Xavier, keep lines of communication open. The Northern Star

Facing up to online 'demons'

XAVIER Lawrence has a MySpace page, as do many of his friends.
Like most tech-savvy kids of the Goonellabah boy's generation, internet sites such as Facebook and MySpace have emerged as the predominant networking tools of the modern day. His father David Lawrence feels it is more about artistic or creative enterprise.
"They talk about music and movies and stuff they're into," Mr Lawrence said. "I think it's a derivative of seeking recognition - kind of an assertion of identity, really."

Mr Lawrence, who is a teacher, first explored the online community when chat rooms were all the rage.

"I wanted to have a handle on what it was all about. We examine blogging and similar online topics in class," he said. Despite recent concerns in the media about the dangers of such sites, Mr Lawrence feels that Xavier is adequately supervised.

"I've set down very clear guidelines. The main rule is to never meet anyone from the site. I've told him there are bad people out there," he said.

The Lawrence household doesn't have a security platform - also known as nanny software - installed on the computer at home and Mr Lawrence concedes that he may have a more liberal attitude than some parents might.

"I've been using technology for a long time and Xavier is still young enough that I am able to monitor his usage easily. I think communication is the key," he said. "My greater concern is that much more time is spent in isolation and communicating virtually instead of in real life. I think that has far greater consequences for social development."

Associate Professor Karen Brooks from Southern Cross University and author of the book Consuming Innocence: Popular Culture and our Children, agrees. She believes concern about young people networking online is often out of proportion and fuelled by media beat-ups.

"Recent research from the US has shown that for the amount of kids that use it, there are relatively few troublesome incidents as a result," Prof Brooks said.

"Having said that, there is agreement between child specialists across the spectrum that internet-ready computers should not be in children's bedrooms. If young kids accessing Facebook and similar sites are in a shared space in the home it is easier for parents to monitor."

Prof Brooks sees a real danger when parents blanket ban their kids from online socialisation.

"Closing that door also closes the door on communication with your kids," she said. "It's important to set age-appropriate boundaries that change as they get older and allow them to prove that they live up to your expectations. It's easy to demonise new technologies, but it's important to maintain a dialogue, so kids feel they can come to you."

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