GEPIC Event Empowers Parents on Topic of Online Safety for Children and Teens

Two people stand on a stage in an auditorium

Caption: Paul Davis with GEPIC Chair Sarah Nichol in the Gord Paynter Theatre at North Park Collegiate and Vocational School prior to the event.

In addition to 28 years in the technology and cyber security sector, and seven years educating students, parents, and law enforcement officials on the topic of social networking and online safety, Paul Davis is also a keen reader of body language.

“Every single night presenting to parents, there’s a point early on where I literally see people becoming uncomfortable,” he said ahead of his keynote address to parents on April 16 as part of the Grand Erie Parent Involvement Committee (GEPIC)’s annual event. “They shift in their seats, they narrow their eyes, their heads tilt slightly.”

What’s there to be uncomfortable about when it comes to children, teens, and social networking?

Pornography, racism, sexism, violence, cyberbullying, vulgarity, to name a few. These are the realities that await young people with internet-connected devices in hand, and accessing it – in Davis’ words – is child’s play.

“Instagram’s terms of service say you must be 13 years of age to open an account. I think 14 is better, personally. But putting an 11-year-old on Instagram is failing that child,” Davis said of the popular social platforms youth gravitate toward. “You will subject them to things they are not equipped to handle, and it desensitizes them.”

Davis’ message is clear: parents own the technology their children use, and parents have a responsibility to put restrictions in place to ensure kids stay safe.

“A bad mix is technology and emotions, and young people don’t know how to process that yet,” he says. “You wouldn’t give a kid the keys to your car and say, ‘go for a drive, I trust you.’ You teach them to drive, you give them lessons, then when you’re confident they’re ready, you let them drive with restrictions in place. Same thing applies to technology.”

The event was a year in the making, and saw more than 130 Grand Erie parents take part. Each year, the committee aims to provide quality programming on timely topics for parents. Following a successful event last year, GEPIC asked parents to identify topics of interest, and heard consistently that having more resources and information on online safely was a priority.

“As parents, we expected to be scared tonight by what Paul had to say, but we’re also coming away with solid advice on how to deal with social media,” said Sarah Nichol, Chair of GEPIC. “We’re leaving here with strategies to put in place around managing and monitoring online activities to keep our kids safe.”

Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan includes Community as one of its key pillars, and aims to facilitate and encourage opportunities for family involvement in schools and learning at home. The plan also prioritizes Well-Being through the promotion of supportive environments that recognize the well-being of mind, body, emotion, and spirit.

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