Darren Laur, internet safety expert, will be presenting in Whitehorse on April 26. (Submitted)

Keeping kids safe online

Cyber safety expert to address Whitehorse parents and caregivers

Whitehorse families could gain a better understanding of the digital world their kids are part of thanks to a presentation by internet safety expert Darren Laur on April 26.

Elaine Taylor chairs the Association of Yukon School Councils, Boards & Committees, which is sponsoring the public presentation as part of its annual meeting and conference April 26 to 29. This year’s event is focused on Supporting Young Minds: Student Safety & Wellness with the organization hosting Laur, of The White Hatter from Victoria, B.C. as part of the conference.

The White Hatter is a business specializing in internet safety. Laur helped found the company after retiring from a nearly 30-year career in law enforcement.

Given this year’s conference theme, Taylor said the association invited him to facilitate a workshop for conference delegates along with providing the public presentation for parents and caregivers.

“(The White Hatter’s) mission is to equip students, educators, parents and others with the tools necessary to stay safe in the real world as well as in today’s digital world — tools that we can all benefit from,” Taylor said.

As Laur said in an April 18 interview, the issues are largely the same in all the communities — large and small throughout British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and in the United States — he visits. Based on what he’s learned of Whitehorse, he believes concerns will be very similar here.

“There are no boundaries online,” he said.

During the two-hour presentation, Laur will discuss how to spot and deal with cyber bullying, the laws that address it and sexting, online slang, how to protect a child online, the permanence of online posts as well as the good and the bad of social networks.

And Laur is clear — there is a lot of good that happens online. There are a lot kids doing some pretty cool things online and it’s a small percentage doing the very negative things we often hear about, he said.

Laur had a long list of positive examples to talk about. There’s a 14-year-old who developed an app aimed at helping students keep track of upcoming school assignments; teenagers in Montreal who developed #VisAbility, a cane and cap that uses technology to help give visually impaired people a better sense of their surroundings and detect approaching objects; and the efforts by school shooting victims in Florida in using social media to push for changes to gun laws, among many more.

There are also the negatives — the cyber bullying, sexting and hacking that have major detrimental impacts on others, Laur acknowledged.

Much of his presentation is aimed at helping parents with a road map of sorts so they can become more involved in their kids’ online lives.

“Parents need to play an important role,” he said.

Many of the students he’s met in his visits to high schools want to be able to talk to their families about what they’re doing online — a cool app they’ve come across or something interesting they found online — but are met with “juvenoia,” which he described as an extreme fear about the impacts on youth from whatever is the influence of the day.

At one time it was comic books; at another it was rock music, then there were video games, and now it seems to centre on smart phones and social media.

“It’s about finding balance,” Laur said, pointing out most of us were at one time or another influenced as youth by some form of popular media.

That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be boundaries in place for youth when it comes to phone use. There’s enough information out there showing smart phones shouldn’t be allowed in the bedroom overnight. That’s a situation that can easily make for tired kids unable to focus in school, Laur said, adding the same argument holds true for video games in bedrooms.

And for those families faced with the argument that phones also serve as alarm clocks, Laur has a solution — buy a basic, old-school alarm clock for the bedroom.

Similarly, he is adamant smart phones should not be at the dinner table.

He does, however, suggest families dedicate one mealtime each week to a “digital dinner.” That’s where the focus of the conversation is on “all things digital.”

“You’ll be amazed at what your kids will tell you,” Laur said.

The school council association is inviting parents and caregivers with children of all ages to attend Laur’s presentation “whether you’re looking to learn about the ABCs about digital literacy including the various platforms, which exist today, or looking for information about safe internet practices,” Taylor said.

Laur’s presentation will get underway April 26 at 6:30 p.m. in the Fireside Room of the Yukon Inn. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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