Kids’ online safety – cracking the code

Photo courtesy Creative Commons

Photo courtesy Creative Commons

How to protect kids online? The Government is clueless!

The Department for Education plans to launch an online guide for parents and teachers, helping them decipher acronyms and other codes children use on social media.

The ParentInfo website is essentially a text-speak dictionary parents can access to decipher what kids are really saying online to protect them from pornography, paedophilia and “sexting”.  Abbreviations include: GNOC (get naked on camera); LMIRL (let’s meet in real life); DOC (drug of choice) plus warnings like PAW (parents are watching) and P999 (parent alert).

A marvellous idea in theory but I immediately recalled my own childhood that, despite being entirely Internet free nonetheless contained large amounts of pornography, albeit mostly in magazines, but also several videos. Some of this was largely purloined, interestingly, from a few of my parents’ more bohemian friends.

My friends and I also ran rings around adults in other ways with our own slang and teen-speak. Kids, as they say, will be kids.

I am not at all advocating giving children complete free-reign or access to pornography – boundaries must be set. I also agree parents and teachers need assistance. Technological developments now move so fast many must be left almost clueless. Once parents crack one code children, however, will almost certainly create another equally baffling. Again: kids will be kids.

Unless we therefore devote a branch of MI5 to this dilemma I fail to see how it can possibly succeed.

Another service ParentInfo offers is advice for parents on engaging with their children about the Internet and how to use it safely. Surely this is common sense and should now be as much a part of good parenting as explaining where babies come from.

I therefore fail to see the point of this whole endeavour.

Far more useful would be following the example of Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens, who recently featured in Channel 4’s fascinating documentary Sex in Class, predictably slammed by the right-wing media.

Trialled in one school, Ms Liekens offered a ground-breaking approach to how teenagers should be taught about sex. Sex Education became as important to the curriculum as Maths or English.

Homework was even set. Girls were encouraged to explore their own bodies with a mirror. After voting on which photograph of vaginas in different states of hairlessness they preferred, boys were given a taste of their preference for the hairless and asked to shave their own pubic hair. Taught in co-educational classes, with an exam at the end, among other benefits the difference in girls’ assertiveness once the course was completed regarding what was acceptable behaviour from boys was inspiring.

If the Government put as much time and money into this worthy and tested scheme as it did another quick-fix solution designed to generate headlines, they might finally start helping the children they claim to want to protect.

Yes, cyclists matter – but so does everyone else

Photo: Creative Commons courtesy en.wikipedia.org

Photo: Creative Commons courtesy en.wikipedia.org

You don’t need to go far to see their staggering selfishness, especially in London. Pedestrians and motorists both suffer, watching in anger while these two-wheeled terrors casually weave in and out of traffic, ignoring signs, signals, riding over pedestrian bridges and jumping the kerb. Roads and footpaths belong to them – nobody else.

Disregarding everyone’s safety, including their own, they wear neither helmets nor high-visibility jackets. Lacking lights for dark days and evenings, often in dark clothing as if trying to deliberately remain unseen, the only reason they have reflectors is because these came attached.

The poor woman probably scarred for life recently, after a callous cyclist hit and run on a Bermondsey footpath may be extreme.

But when newspaper headlines shout about another tragic cycling death, sadly few readers admit much sympathy. With little detail, no blame is directed toward the fatally injured cyclist. Readers, although wishing nobody harm, often recall nothing except the recent recklessness they saw or experienced. These images come to mind, not the poor cyclist tragically killed. Subsequently many readers rarely bother continuing past the headlines.

Yes, millions of responsible cyclists do follow road rules, are considerate to those they share streets with and wear correct cycling clothing.

Millions of drivers show similar respect for road safety laws. Most people no more condemn every motorist as irresponsible and dangerous for the few reckless drivers who blight the roads, than they do all cyclists.

One important difference remains though.

Motorists undergo lengthy theoretical and practical training before being allowed behind a car wheel and penalties, should they flout laws, are far more severe.

Cyclists comparatively, can jump on a bike immediately, whether it’s been years since they last cycled or never ridden at all.

The expression: “It’s just like riding a bike,” describes any activity you never forget or can pick up easily after a lengthy break. The irony is this should not apply to cycling, especially through London’s crowded streets.

Cyclists should not be permitted on roads until completion of practical and written road safety tests. If successful, a point-based licence, similar to motorists’ should be issued. Although these tests would be far simpler, cyclists breaking road law should also be penalised by losing points, with fines and, in extreme cases, imprisonment. Laws must include mandatory use of lights and appropriate clothing and a footpath cycling ban. Helmets and jackets should come included with any hire-bike.

This can only prevent, or at least reduce, those tragic cycling fatalities – the cycling campaign groups goal.

There cannot be one rule for motorists and another for cyclists. Yes, there should indeed be more cyclists on our roads, but not at any expense.

When political parties need to professionalise

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Natalie Bennett’s disastrous week mean urgent lessons must be learned, by her and the entire Green Party.


Rob Whitson in UK Politics

28 Feb 2015, 01:04 GMT | Comments (1) | Report

Green leader Natalie Bennett at the party’s ill-fated election policy launch (Photo: Creative Commons)

Insurgent parties, like the Greens and UKIP are receiving the widespread media coverage they craved for so long. This, as they are discovering the hard way, is a double-edged sword.

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Reasons to believe

images

Photo: flickr.com courtesy Creative Commons

There’s a reason I still have faith in humanity.

I left the house to get groceries on Sunday in a foul mood. Passing an empty beer bottle slung by some slob into the planter outside my building only confirmed a belief the world was going to hell in a hay-cart. All day I’d felt disappointed and let down due to a good friend’s behaviour the previous evening while at my place for dinner.

I enjoy cooking for others and always make an effort. Taking advantage of the fact I live within walking distance of the culinary mecca that is Borough Market, I’d spent more than I should and most of the morning fighting crowds to get the necessary ingredients.

Most of the afternoon was spent slaving over a hot stove while preparing my culinary output for the evening. Then, before my guests arrived, the flat was cleaned and the music chosen, all with the intention of being the best host possible. My anticipation quickly became bemusement when the first of these friends turned up drunk.

Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m certainly not anti-alcohol and, indeed, enjoy a bottle of red myself most weekends. In fact I’d purchased a couple of excellent bottles for both my guests and I to share that evening. What I found so annoying was this person – someone who frankly, should know better, couldn’t be bothered to wait for the rest of us.

Many readers simply won’t understand why this upset me. The closest comparison I can draw for their benefit is, if having prepared dinner early, I proceeded to sit down and started eating the dessert before my guests even walked through the door.

Sadly I think my friend’s behaviour is indicative of a much wider, far more serious problem affecting society. Something that, despite its seriousness can be summed up in three short words: lack of courtesy.

Unfortunately said friend’s social misdemeanours did not end there. Throughout the evening they spent most of their time, including while seated at the table eating dinner with the rest of us, texting someone due to the possibility of getting lucky later. Again, call me old-fashioned, but I was raised to believe if someone invites you to their home and takes the time to cook a meal for you, the very least you can do is pay attention to what they and everyone else present are saying. More lack of courtesy.

I was walking back from the supermarket bemoaning this person’s behaviour during a call to another friend, someone who shares my mostly jaundiced view of the way people treat each other these days. He was appalled, as I knew he would be. He knows the person in question and, like me, usually has a high opinion of him.

As we spoke, I realized I’d forgotten to buy something so needed to pop into the little supermarket beneath my building. After explaining this, I promised to call again when I was back in my flat. Unlike some people I don’t think it’s civilised or necessary to walk around a store talking on my mobile. I also feel even though you’re not friends and they’re only doing their job, the very least you can give anyone serving you is your attention and a smile.

It amazes me how many people I see in shops completely ignoring the person serving them. Any acknowledgement they manage is little more than a nod while they conduct an entirely different conversation on their mobile phone about football, EastEnders or what Becky in accounting did at the pub Friday. Again: lack of courtesy.

After buying what I needed, while walking back to my building’s entrance I noticed a guy cutting branches away from a tree on the kerb that had become especially overgrown around the base. Only the other day I’d been thinking how untidy this was and how much it spoiled the surrounding area.

Believing he was a council worker, I stopped to thank him for a job well done and coming out on a Sunday but recognized him as someone who lived in my building. Appreciation quickly became admiration. I congratulated him for taking time out of his Sunday to do a job the hundreds of other occupants in my building and those surrounding it, including myself, simply couldn’t be bothered to do.

Retracing my steps, I picked up the empty bottle from the planter on the way in, stopping in my building’s bin area to put it in with the recycling. Phoning my friend to continue our conversation, I told him what happened and he agreed: despite the rudeness epidemic sweeping the modern world there are still many good, considerate people out there.

It’s funny how the universe works.

Facebook’s not all bad…

(Image: Creative Commons)

Image: Creative Commons

Not a big fan of Facebook, if I’m honest, I avoid it when possible. I’ve never collected friends the way kids collect trading cards nor have any inclination while I’m enjoying myself somewhere to stop and share this electronically.

Those few times I do log on I tend to find the stream of updates banal and unimaginative, and people’s repetitive rambling irritating. The surest way to spoil a nice Friday evening in alone is to read endless postings of everyone else apparently celebrating without you. It does however, have uses.

However, it is a good way to maintain contact with friends many miles away, and an excellent method of tracking down people you’ve lost touch with completely. I was contacted last week by someone I hadn’t heard from in 28 years who I went to high school with. Having lived in London since I was 19, I go home only to see family every five years or so. The flight’s too long, expensive and tiring at 44.

Struggling with my sexuality in macho Australia at high school was a difficult bittersweet time for me. Like most people I had some of the worst and best experiences of my life there during the five years it covered.

A group of us were extremely close but when it was over for me, it ended abruptly. My Mum died after a short bout of cancer just after I received my final exam grades and, after coming out, I dropped out of university to move in with my first partner and severed nearly all former social ties.

In the past few days I’ve chatted with people I haven’t spoken to in years, picking up the phone without hesitation and little embarrassment. Old memories came flooding back.

Sometimes you can go home again.

Britain’s hidden epidemic

(Picture: Wikipedia courtesy Creative Commons)

(Picture: Wikipedia courtesy Creative Commons)

Third Year Broadcast Project

I chose epilepsy as the topic for my major final year project. My aim was to highlight the general lack of knowledge in the UK about epilepsy and the problems this causes sufferers.