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Our View: Cypriot parents cannot afford to be hands-off on internet safety

FIGURES released on Monday showed that 86 per cent of 13- to 16-year-olds and 56 per cent of nine- to 12-year-olds in Cyprus have a profile on social network sites such as Facebook.

The figures are among the highest in the EU, especially in the younger category compared to the bloc’s average of 38 per cent.

Part of the reason why there are so many younger children in Cyprus on social networking sites is probably because most parents are unaware of the dangers and not internet-savvy enough to do anything about it.

The EU-wide survey revealed that younger children in particular had no concept of how use the social network site’s security settings to protect themselves from people they didn’t know. Many were unwittingly displaying their addresses and phone numbers online.

It was only a year ago that a 38-year-old Greek soldier was arrested here in connection with the rape, corruption and sexual exploitation of a young girl of 11, whom he ‘groomed’ on Facebook.

Police – together with telecoms authority CyTA - have organised a number of seminars for ‘safe internet day’. There have also been some warning advertisements on TV geared towards teenage girls, and secondary schools do their bit as well. Teenagers also have a bit more street smarts.

If, however, as the figures show, there are so many nine- to 12-year-olds on social networking sites, then schools should perhaps start educating children, and their parents on internet security, from primary level.

CyTA has over 100,000 internet users, yet fewer than 4,000 of them are using their free filtering service to protect their children.

An EU-funded event organised by CyTA has in the past urged parents to take a greater interest in the online activities of their children. The organisers pointed to surveys suggesting that many adults in their 40s and 50s are technologically illiterate, with many having no understanding of or interest in the internet.

Parents are, and should be, the first line of defence in protecting their children. If they are unable to grasp how to use the internet, the only other option to protect their children - and the easiest way - is to limit their access to the PC or stand over their child’s shoulder while they are online.

It is not an issue of the child’s privacy. No parent would let their nine- to 12-year-old loose with a box of matches in a room with at gas leak, or let them out to play on a street where a suspected paedophile lives. Social networking sites are a pervert’s playground and the sooner parents realise this, the safer their children will be.