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What parents should know about internet

THE Herald has shown this week how the internet has increased the likelihood of teenagers behaving in a sexual manner.

Psychologist Owen Connelly today addresses the concerns of Herald readers and advises them on the measures they can take to keep their children safe online.

Dr Connolly co-authored the bestselling childcare book Parenting For The Millennium, and wrote Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants - From Father To Dad.

He founded the Connolly Counselling Centre in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, and he is also the chairman of the Nurture Institute of Further Education for Parents, a not-for- profit charity which runs parenting courses and day-long seminars on fatherhood throughout the greater Dublin area.

Q I caught my 16-year-old girl stripping in front of a webcam. She said she was only doing it for her boyfriend. I've been thinking about taking her laptop but she needs it to study, what should I do?

AWhen your daughter answered that she was doing this for her boyfriend, she believed that she was not doing anything wrong. Use this situation to talk to her about this boy. Check that she is not being bullied into doing this. Punishing her by removing her laptop will only serve to distance her from you. Explain to her that exposing her body on the net is not safe, that there is no guarantee that her image won't be put out for all to see, and if this were to happen she would be embarrassed and ashamed.

QMy son is ten. He uses the family laptop for games but when I went on the internet history the other day, I saw that he'd spent hours watching porn. I'm afraid this might affect him and his relationships when he grows up.

AWell done. All parents should check the internet history, keeping an eye on what is being downloaded or viewed. We cannot stop our 10 year olds from being curious nor can we stop them viewing porn on the net. There is software you can put ona laptop to restrict access to these sites. Ask his dad to have a word with him about what he was watching explaining that these programmes are no representation of how adults behave. Taking a non-judgmental approach will give you a chance to talk, clearing up some of his misconceptions. You will want him to have a healthy view of intimacy that won't affect his future relationships.

QMy 14-year-old son loves chatting to girls online that are 'friends of friends' but he's never met them. Is it dangerous?

A What 14-year-old, given the choice would refuse to chat to girls on the phone? He is likely to be flattered. What is dangerous about this? Talking to his friends' friends, is an ego boost for a 14 year old. He is at the narcissistic stage of development, when it's all about 'me'. He takes centre stage with the focus on himself.

Q I heard my daughter flirting on the phone the other day. I asked her if it was a new boyfriend (she's 15) and eventually found out that she's been talking to someone she met in a chat room. I want to respect her privacy but I'm afraid that this person may not be who he claims to be.

AWhy? It's normal for a 15-year-old girl to flirt on the phone to a boy she has not met, or when she is not inhibited by his being present. He may not be who he claims to be but that won't make any difference to your daughter as she may be just having fun on the phone. You will notice she is not being who she is, either. Part of the fun on the phone is, you can be who you like, pretend what you like most, especially when you don't know each other.

QMy 13-year-old niece is posting inappropriate photos on Facebook and I'm not sure how to tell her mother (my sister). My niece was wearing a push-up and a very revealing skirt.

AYour daughter has photos of her cousin in what you describe as a push-up bra and a very revealing skirt. She must have her as a friend on Facebook to get these photos. It is not unusual for young girls to dress up or down for their friends for fun, was your daughter as shocked as you? It is important that we do not jump to conclusions or make them see something sinister in any child's behaviour. You have to talk to your niece rather than panic your sister. If it is just innocent play, then warn her of the danger of photos being uploaded to the net.

QMy son spends all his time on the internet, we can't get him out of his room anymore. If he's not on Facebook, he's playing some game online where he chats to strangers. I'm concerned that he's not spending any time with his friends. He's 13.

A A 13-year-old who stays in his room all the time, no matter what he is doing, is not a good sign. He seems to want to socialise but in the comfort of his room, on Facebook and gaming. I would be asking if he is feeling unsafe with his friends, or maybe if someone is bullying him at school. You should agree with him on a few ground rules for the amount of time he is on his computer, and encourage him to get involved with outside activities that he is comfortable with.

QMy 17-year-old daughter has spent the last two years recovering from an eating disorder. We knew something was wrong when caught her on a pro-ana site but we let her keep her laptop later on because when she was ill in hospital, it cheered her up to chat to friends online. She's been doing a lot better lately but I saw that she'd visited another one of those sites again this month. I'm not sure what to do anymore.

A I am sure that you are happy that she is coping well and that is what you need to be talking to her about. Encourage her in the progress that she is making. It is normal for you to be anxious about her being on one of the sites that you associate with her past condition, after all you are a mother and want the best for her. Eating disorders have very deep roots, and what your daughter needs, even in recovery is to meet with a professional in that field.