On Your Father's Side  

Kids might have the answer

Online predators aren't lurking behind your child’s every click or swipe.

At least that’s the opinion of Darren Laur, a Victoria man who calls himself The White Hatter.

“Understand that most of your kids are doing super, uber-cool things online,” said Laur.

The White Hatter team — which includes Laur’s wife, Beth, and their son, Brandon — are in Kelowna this week speaking to parents and students about the digital world and how children use it.

They’re scheduled to speak 17 times this week in Okanagan schools, and tonight for parents at Quigley Elementary School in Rutland from 6:30-8 p.m.

“Our kids want to teach us,” Laur said. “You’ll be amazed at what they have learned.”

Laur’s presentation tonight is called Internet/Social Media Safety and Digital Literacy 101.

Subject matter includes everything from copyright laws, ethics and publishing to digital peer aggression, sexting and emotional health.

Yet, Laur wants parents to know the internet and all its related tentacles aren’t there to ensnare your children provided you’re setting a good example and are willing to learn.

Begin with a simple, three-step plan:

  • parental participation
  • communication
  • monitoring and filtering.

Understand that allowing unfiltered access to the internet is like giving your children the keys to your $80,000 sports car, Laur said.

If you wouldn’t do that in the “real world,” why would you do it with “digital keys to a digital highway?” 

You can’t expect kids to learn for themselves online by trial and error and you shouldn’t expect the school system to take full ownership on this.

“We parents need to start parenting on these issues,” said Laur, who created White Hatter after 29 years as a Victoria police investigator.

  • Start small, and include time limits and filters on content.
  • Work with your children and build trust in your relationship.
  • Let kids earn their privacy and prove that you can remove monitoring.

One you reduce filters, tell your kids that you’ll conduct periodic “social media audits” and check for inappropriate behaviours.

That will prevent “slippage.”

If you don’t find anything, extend the time they get without your influence. If you don’t like what you see, throttle back the access.

Laur is, however, betting you’ll be impressed by what most kids can do online.

They’re moving from digital consumers to content creators, he said.

He cites the example of Prince George teen Tessa Erickson who developed an app to help save her indigenous language.

Toronto’s Riya Karumanchi was 14 when she created a “smart cane” for the visually impaired. 

Victoria’s Alec Jones, 14, made headlines though his innovative homework app that helps you remember assignment dates and details.

Not that everything is beautiful in the virtual world. Kids need to know that everything they do is public, searchable, exploitable and for sale.

Laur said kids need to know they’re busy creating a “digital dossier” that could follow them throughout their lives.

That’s where mom and dad can help. By pairing your life experience with their energy, you can navigate online safely, he said.

“It’s a shift in mindset,” said Laur.

The White Hatters are proud of their approach.

Darren and Brandon have presented to 375,000 students and tens of thousands of parents across Western Canada and into the U.S.

Laur said he’s successfully intervened in 168 crisis events with kids who were contemplating hurting themselves or others.

About one-third of those events started with “sexting gone wrong,” Laur said, where personal, intimate photos are “being weaponized” against the children involved.

The rest stem from “digital peer aggression.” Laur doesn’t call that cyber-bullying, because it extends beyond that.

Again, though, Laur reminds parents that research proves you have more positive impact when you work with your children, not against them.

Why not just throw away all phones, tablets and computers? Because Laur said the future belongs to your kids.

Just look at the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Fla. It was there a gunman killed 17 kids and staff on Feb. 14. 

Don’t focus on the shooter,  Laur said, look at what teens did in the aftermath. 

It seems Laur envisions a day when all teens have such weighty political and social influence, in large part thanks to technology.

“They’re having a huge influence,” he said.

To learn more about The White Hatters, visit thewhitehatter.ca.

To RSVP for tonight’s presentation, see bit.ly/whitehattersd23.


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About the Author

David Trifunov is a proud father, humble author and recovering journalist.

Trifunov and his wife, Erin, are raising three little girls in Kelowna and enjoying every second of the trials, triumphs and tribulations.

As a humble author, he has written three middle-grade books for publisher Formac-Lorimer.

To pay the bills so he can raise those kids and write those books, Trifunov is a journalist with 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor.

His parenting column will appear regularly. davidtrifunov.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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