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Keep them busy offline…and safe online

By Michael Connolly

Recent research from Queensland, Australia has drawn a parallel between the activities of children offline and the likelihood of them getting into trouble online. Griffith University researchers Margee Hume and Gillian Sullivan-Mort interviewed over 150 children between the ages of 10 and 18 and found that those involved in fewer extracurricular activities were also the ones most likely to exhibit risky behavior online.

During the course of the study, Dr Hume found that keeping children occupied and active away from the computer was one of the key components of cultivating a healthy and safe relationship with the Internet. “Exercise was a big factor. All the kids who were participating in sports or dancing and other activities not involving the Internet had experienced fewer problems online,” she said.

They had a better sense of self and wellbeing and could balance out instances of cyber-bullying with their friendships away from the school and the web. The children who were most at risk were those who were socially and geographically isolated and did not have a strong interest in other activities. “In many respects, it’s not what children are doing online which is the problem, it’s the balance of what they are doing offline which is important,” said Dr. Hume.

The researchers found there were plenty of strategies parents could put in place to protect their children which they were not currently implementing. As a result, they have called for the development of guidelines to help parents prevent their children from being exposed to dangers on the Internet. “Lack of parental supervision, isolated or excessive computer use, and lack of offline activity all increase the risks associated with online activity,” said Dr. Hume.

Dr Hume and Professor Sullivan-Mort said the potential dangers faced by children included cyber-bullying, adults and children impersonating other users, the exchange of intimate photos and videos, and the sharing of personal secrets online. “We need to have easily accessible and affordable programs for parents, as well as a strong social marketing campaign which draws attention to the dangers children face online and how to protect them,” Dr Hume said.

However, “we can’t keep blaming the tool,” she continued. “The importance of parental involvement and a strong roster of offline activities can’t be emphasized enough.”

Comment by Laurel Kellam, posted 5/18/2010, 9:24 PM:

We offer parents a calendar listing of all events & activities in their neighborhood at www.playplanit.com Right now we are in San Francisco but are expanding to other areas. We are trying to provide a way for parents to easily access all the "offline" events that are available for kids.
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