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How young is too young to go online? Source: Herald Sun I DARE any parent of tweens or teens who attends a cyber-safety lecture not to leave in a state of mild - or chronic - panic.
You go to these evenings thinking you already know plenty about how to run your child's online life and keep them safe, and you come out feeling as skilled as a kid let into the control room at NASA and asked to land the shuttle.
Or perhaps something even more sci-fi, because the dear old shuttle, like the understanding many parents have of fast-moving social networking trends, is already gathering dust.
How to control such a shifting and compelling force as the internet, and its impact on the lives of vulnerable kids, drives some parents so completely nuts they ban it altogether. It turns others into duplicitous spies on their own trusting, tech-savvy kids.
But one thing on which the experts I've heard agree is that despite the views of some helicopter parents, neither of those works.
You can lock away the PCs, deny net-linked phones and try to prison-guard their online world as much as you like. But such is the social network saturation, kids will find a way to do it on their own terms.
And why shouldn't they? Once a child hits 13 they are legally entitled to get on Facebook - just like most of their parents. But by that time, according to an amazing statistic I learned just last week, most of them are well and truly on it.
Up to 80 per cent of grade 4 kids are estimated to have a Facebook account (with a fudged birth date).
Yet up to 60 per cent of parents admit to having had no involvement whatsoever in their children's online life. No wonder when many bother to have a browse and realise how entrenched kids are in cyberland that they freak out and go to extremes.
One Melbourne parent and childhood consultant did just that when she created a fake teenage Facebook personality last year and spied on other teens her daughter's age.
As the Herald Sun reported, she read strangers' pages to which she had gained access under her false ID, then found and publicised plenty that was a worry.
But in my view she also did a stack of damage to the credibility of all parents of kids who read about her efforts: surely the fastest way to show children they really can't trust or confide in any adult is to flamboyantly deceive them.
How refreshing, then, to hear from a visiting US cyber/teen expert this week that stalking your children online does more harm than good.
Dr Danah Boyd, a cyber-bullying specialist and child-trafficking researcher from New York University (who lectures in town this week) says the way to protect children against net nasties is to let them log on and learn.
It's a leap of faith, of course, given what we know about predators and bullies. But the alternative, says Dr Boyd, is an "arms race" between parents and kids as each escalates their prying or cloaking efforts.
Conversely, to those who would have you go to lengths to trick kids into letting you monitor them closely, she says open conversation about what they're doing, and presumably what they see, is more constructive. Underhanded surveillance undermines trust and teaches them "not to talk to you".
So the message is, neither a human shield nor a stalker be - where the access to the omnipresent net is concerned, you can't fight thunder.
You can forgive parents for desperation, though: we're the first generation to have faced such a mind-numbing dilemma.
As Dr Boyd puts it: "The kind of public life we see online has never existed before."