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Our Kids Online hits the road

Rob and Zareen Cope from Our Kids Online

Our Kids Online hits the road

Kiwi filmmakers Rob and Zareen Cope used money they had earmarked for a new kitchen to finish a documentary about the harm kids come to online. Instead, they settled for a kitchen that Mr Cope built out of pallets, so they could release Our Kids Online; Porn, Predators and How to Keep Them Safe in May this year.

When they uploaded it to Vimeo on Demand, the pair thought the gruelling work was over, and that mums ‘n dads would quickly welcome the film and recommendations with open arms.

But little did they know the extent to which parents would need their hands held to confront the subject.

“We put everything we had into making Our Kids Online, which at times was heart-breaking work. When the film was released, we probably thought we could change the world” reflects Rob Cope, who is captured briefly at the start of the film with his head in his hands.

“We had a great run of publicity, but after that, it appeared that many parents were so overwhelmed that they couldn’t properly address the dangers present in their children’s bedrooms – the very place parents assume kids to be safe.”

So, the couple went back to the drawing board, taking up every opportunity to talk further with educators, teachers and principals. They worked out that parents were avoiding the awkward and worrying issue individually and needed some group guidance to tackle it, including a basic grounding in social media and cyber bullying issues.

They put together an educational pitch, to bring parents together in school halls up and down the country, and the plan is working; the Copes have just completed their fifth Wellington region ‘safety information evening’ and are about to pack up the car for the next run of six. The response from teachers and parents has been “amazing” and the couple couldn’t be happier with an average of 40 to 50 local parents turning up to learn together each time.

Says Zareen Sheikh-Cope: “In addition to promoting a film that we’re proud of, our message now is that tackling this problem is as much about changing parents’ behaviour sympathetically, as it is about showcasing danger and solutions. We get through the subject matter very honestly and with plenty of humour!”

Even churches have booked the accomplished speakers to deliver a stark warning to their own communities and walk them through some helpful solutions. Between schools and churches, bookings for 2021 are already approaching thirty, with over fifty in the pipeline.

Both the film and the parents’ evenings are informed by a wealth of experts from the USA, Australia and New Zealand. Once they’ve made an impact in Aotearoa, the Cope’s hope to adapt and replicate this model with associates in Australia towards the end of 2021, pandemic allowing.

Australian supporter and Managing Director of Youth Well Being Project, Liz Walker (who has also toured New Zealand) contributed to the film and is thrilled to see the couple taking this initiative: “They are among my top heroes in this space!” she says. 

Other Australian experts the Copes talked to, during their research and filmmaking are Child Psychologist and Author Collette Smart, Cyber Safety expert Leoni Smith and Monash University’s Dr Anita Elias.

“As educators in this space, we are treading carefully to prepare parents for what are sometimes horrifying revelations. Imagine finding out that your 11-year-old child is being blackmailed to send nude pictures of themselves to predators? How about discovering your 8-year-old has been exposed to violent porn? It is a reality for some families, sadly” says Sheikh-Cope. 

“But the great thing about working with parents face to face is we can hear concerns there and then” says Mr Cope. “We’re incredibly grateful that the schools have so readily jumped on board with this work.”

In contrast to parents, most teachers are all too aware of the issues that occur when curious young minds meet the sophisticated machine that is online pornography. School filtering devices and systems are reported to block up to 300,000 attempts to access pornography per month. Mega-sites like Pornhub take no responsibility for a lack of age verification or any other safeguards for children.

“This is a public health crisis, and it will not be fixed by one person or group.  We all play a part in keeping kids safe online.  As parents, we are the first port of call and play the biggest role in helping our children. After all, we are the ones who give them the devices in the first place” says Sheikh-Cope.

“We do understand that at these parents’ evenings, everyone will need to be prepared to feel a bit awkward at first. But we’ve always been honest about our own awkwardness and personal experiences with four kids of our own aged between 10 and 16, which leads to a lot of laughter and sets parents at ease. We are regularly told this is invaluable!”

Information about locations and dates can be found at: https://www.ourkidsonline.info/nz-school-tour-2020-2021

The 90 minute film available for NZ $7.99 at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/ourkidsonline

Rob and Zareen’s story was featured in The New Zealand Herald, on Newstalk ZB, TV One Breakfast, TV3 The Cafe and Stuff.co.nz as well as numerous blogs and resource sites.

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