Safer Internet Day is a very worthy idea, but unfortunately it's a little like the so-called war on drugs, the good guys can't win. In the first place, it has now emerged that 60pc of teenagers (40pc of 9- to 16-year-olds) own a smartphone of one kind or another, leaving them very exposed to inappropriate material.
It also nullifies the reason most parents supposedly offer for giving their youngster a phone – which is to keep in touch with home. Young people today, unlike their parents, were born into a technological world, and know how to navigate any device their parents might install. Taken with the sophistication of the hardware they carry around, this is where the dangers lie.
So what it comes down to is that in order to protect young people from the excesses of the internet – and these are many – parents have to talk to their children, listen to them and keep in touch with what they are doing with their devices.
Otherwise, the secret world of the web can turn into a savage place. Of course, it is impossible to micromanage modern communications. But by talking and questioning, parents can get a good idea of where their sons and daughters are spending their time. Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said yesterday that if parents bought their children a device such as a smartphone they had a responsibility to keep themselves informed of the risks involved.
Film star Cate Blanchett has said that one of the secrets of her marriage is that she and her husband share the same e-mail address. "I can see what he's up to," she said, "not that I don't trust him." The same might apply to parents monitoring their children's internet use – it is not that you don't trust them, it's just that once they know their parents are on the case they might be more careful out there in cyberspace.