PROTECT YOUR CHILD FROM; Paddy Shennan Finds out How to Keep a Watchful Eye on Your Children

Article excerpt

Byline: Paddy Shennan

PARENTS are being encouraged to surf the world wide web with their children,in the wake of the latest international internet scare.

Missing schoolgirl Shevaun Pennington has turned up safe and well after a police hunt spanning two continents.

The 12-year-old,from Lowton, near Wigan, had not been seen since arriving in Paris with 31 year -old former US marine Toby Studabaker.

They met through an internet chat room.

John Haggerty (pictured), an expert in computer security and a lecturer in computer studies at Liverpool John Moores University, says it isn't the first and -sadly -won't be the last story of its kind.

But he stresses that there is much parents can do in a bid to try and avoid the heartache suffered by Shevaun's parents,Stephen and Joanna.

John says: ``We are living in a fantastically exciting age -the age of the internet and mobile phones -in which we have access to all kinds of information.

``But there is always a down side. And old issues -involving,if you like, `Stranger Danger' -still apply,but in a different way.'' Parents continue to warn their children of potential physical threats, but now they have to be aware of a potential -and unseen -cyber threat.

John adds: ``Parents have to give their children trust, but it's a question of knowing how far to extend it. If,for example, a child is spending many,many hours a day online, you have to wonder what they are doing.''

Parents, he explains, wouldn't trust their young children to go away for the weekend by themselves, so why should they be given a totally free rein on a computer on which they can potentially access millions of people?

He says: ``It would be a good idea for parents to bring the computer their children use into the front room,or another room used by all the family, so they can more easily monitor its use.

``And they could then make surfing the net a real family activity, something which involves parents and children working together. Parents can also take an interest by talking to their children more about the internet.''

That includes making sure they know how to stay safe. John adds: ``The internet is a marvellous facility but, in chat rooms,people are not aware of who they are really talking to. Children need to be `web savvy' and aware that the internet,potentially,is not as safe as it might seem.

``Children may be more aware of internet technology than their parents, but they are not as worldly-wise. Parents need to make their children realise that they cannot trust people using chat rooms -they cannot be sure they are who they say they are. …