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Digi-wise

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You can’t keep your kids offline, writes Karen Hardy, so find out what they are doing.

Technology has helped hide abuse.

Technology has helped hide abuse.

One mother is shocked to find her 11-year-old daughter is following an account on Instagram called Canberra’s Hottest Tweens. And she recognised some of the girls who had posted their photos on it. Thankfully, her daughter had not. She thought Instagram was just a cute way for her daughter to share her photos with her friends.

Another is horrified when her 10-year-old son comes home and tells her that his friends Googled ‘‘big boobs’’ when they had some free computer time at school. Another, who joined social networking site Kik to be able to communicate with her kids via their iPods because she thought they were too young to have actual phones, is herself confronted by requests from bare-chested, middle-aged men wanting to chat. If I’m getting these requests, she thinks, what’s going on on my kids’ accounts?

‘‘We cannot stick our heads in the digital sand and pretend that it’s all bunny rabbits and rainbows in the online world,’’ says renowned child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, who has just released a new edition of his book Real Wired Child, Beyond Cyberbullying: An Essential Guide for Parenting in the Digital Age.

Michael Carr-Gregg's book on cyberbullying.

Michael Carr-Gregg's book on cyberbullying.

‘‘While it is a place of amazing opportunity, it is also an arena of risk where young people can develop, but where they may also become the victims of crime or engage in illegal behaviour themselves.’’

But rather than suggesting we pull the plug on our children’s internet use, Carr-Gregg says we should harness the power of the internet for good.

‘‘[It’s time] to embrace the internet and, if not to actually become part of its community, then to at least understand it and get involved.

‘‘How can we protect our children if we don’t really understand where they are?’’
Given that, he says the six most pressing concerns for parents are cyberbullying, sexting, porn, excessive use, online gambling and the management of privacy.
‘‘Bullying has always been around. Cyber bullying is the same wine, just in a different and more pernicious glass,’’ he says.

He says while the term cyberbullying really needs to be more clearly defined, up to 50 per cent of Australian children have reported they’ve been bullied online in some way.
He is also concerned about the legal ramifications of sexting, which can  break child pornography laws;  how exposure to pornography can distort a generation’s view of sexuality and body image; the impact of excessive use on sleep and academic performance; the  addiction of gambling websites; and internet fraud.
He says the best thing parents can do is set clear limits and boundaries around cybersafety.
‘‘Use parental controls. All devices come with them – use them,’’ he says. ‘‘Use a random Wi-Fi password generator. You can stick a note on the fridge that says, ‘Want today’s Wi-Fi password? Then a) Walk the dog, b) Make your bed c) Do your chores.
 ‘‘Make sure they know that they must think before they click. It is all about respect for self and others.
‘‘Make sure they know my mantra: ‘Never post anything you would not want your parents, principal, predator or the police to see’. Never friend someone you haven’t met, and protect your privacy.
‘‘Never respond to cyberbullies; save the evidence and report.’’
And from that, one of the most important things parents can do is reassure their children that they can talk to them about anything to do with what happens online, and that they will not be disconnected if they tell their parents what’s going on. ‘‘You  have to choose your battles.
‘‘Only argue over things that matter – in my opinion this matters, as it has to do with their wellbeing and safety.’’

THE DOCTOR PRESCRIBES

Phone apps and online programs for young people.

MOOD ASSESSMENT PROGRAM: I ask all my patients to complete this web-based program online prior to the first consultation. It’s a computerised assessment and diagnostic tool for mood disorders that gives me a thorough breakdown and a quite accurate diagnosis. It helps identify depressive sub-types, improves detection of bipolar disorder, identifies vulnerable personality styles, lifestyle and environmental factors contributing to the depressive illness, and provides a rational basis for development of a formulation and treatment plan.
MOODGYM: I use this every single time for cases of depression and anxiety. Together, the client and I use it on synchronised tablets. It’s ideal for cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT).
MOODKIT: This smartphone app is the logical CBT follow-up homework for a young client. It’s a toolkit for what they can do to improve their mood, recording events and feelings, and rating their mood along the way. They can email me how they are feeling each day or week.
ICOPE: This was developed by mental health nurses. It offers alternatives to deliberate self-harm by providing practical and easy steps to distract, displace and seek help, all at the touch of a button and accessible at all times.
SMILING MIND: Young people adore this. Smiling Mind is a meditation app customised by age for anxiety and depression. We also use a skin conductance (galvanic skin response) machine to give visual biofeedback as they listen.
TALKING ANXIETY: This phone app can help young people and families understand anxiety.
BODY BEAUTIFUL: A unique iPhone app that promotes positive body image and self-esteem among women and girls.
DEEPSLEEP: This app incorporates guided meditation to help overcome insomnia and get to sleep. It can be customised for short or long inductions, and has an alarm for waking up.
SUPERBETTER: A remarkable online game that supports young people to achieve health-related goals by increasing resilience.
LIVE HAPPY: A positive psychology app I use in the final stages of therapy.
PILLBOXIE: This pill reminder app provides useful reminders to take medication.
ICOUNSELOR: Incorporates strategies for managing a range of conditions, including anger, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression.

■  Beyond Cyberbullying: An essential guide for parenting in the digital age, by Dr Michael
Carr-Gregg. (Penguin, $19.99.)

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