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We owe it to our children to become experts on the internet

Help. Our children have gone over the top and left us in the trenches.

We were so busy congratulating ourselves for being cool about haircuts and sex and rock 'n' roll that we didn't notice a completely different generation gap opening up behind us.

Our kids are at home on the internet and we are not.

This is a very dangerous situation. Kids are kids. They need parents. Now they've gone somewhere their parents can't follow and they're not safe.

You're thinking I'm just the type who fears anything new. Someone like your old aunt who used to tidy the sitting-room on Friday night because Gay Byrne would have a clear view of it from the TV.

You're thinking the kids are safe online, they're educating themselves in ways we never could and their horizons are broader.

No way are they safe. An ISPCC survey of more than 18,000 children and teenagers came out yesterday which showed that a quarter of older kids used no privacy settings on the internet. Over a third of younger kids had no idea how to keep their Facebook accounts private.



TROUBLE

For the first time ever, thousands of Irish kids are socialising freely with the entire world.

It used to be that only very neglected kids got to hang out with whoever they liked. Those were the kids who didn't respect themselves and got into trouble.

Now thousands of kids whose parents care about them are letting them hang out with anyone and anything.

And meeting people online is way more dangerous than meeting them on street corners. Most kids have enough radar to tell if someone they meet is a weirdo or not. But online, the weirdos can reinvent themselves and a kid's radar is disabled. And what is really scary is that 16pc of the older kids in the survey had gone on to meet someone they'd contacted through the internet.

Of course, most of these meetings must have been innocent and even fun. But some of those meetings could have been with axe murderers or paedophiles. We have no right to allow our kids take risks like that. We are dozing on the job.

A lot of the kids who met up with strangers from the internet were also among the 44pc of the older kids who had computers in their bedrooms. They can browse away on their own with no one looking over their shoulders.

It's recommended the computer should be in a communal area, like the kitchen. But that advice is going out of date as you read this. Smart phones are expensive now, but they won't always be. It won't be long before your kids are looking for one, and if you give in, they'll have internet access anywhere.

We're going to have to develop a whole new rulebook for phones: no smart phones for kids or only smartphones with filters and privacy settings that the kids can't undo.

The ISPCC report suggests there should be a "panic button" which kids can press if they feel unsafe on the internet -- this is up and running in the UK.

But they have to admit there's no simple recipe for internet safety. It mostly comes down to parents. But the parents can't hack it. Some can't be bothered and lots don't have a clue.

The ISPCC says there should be an internet safety programme for kids in schools. But what we need more in our schools is a mandatory internet safety programme for parents.

A lot of parents of my generation don't have a lot of education. They're frightened of learning new things. Don't want to look stupid in front of their kids.

But who in God's name is going to keep kids safe in this brave new world if not their parents?