Plenty of parents complain that their children don't listen because they're always staring at a screen.

But cyber safety expert John Parsons says what he's hearing from children and teenagers that their parents hardly speak to them because they're so busy with their own devices.

Parsons, who was in Taupo last week presenting workshops on online safety for students, teachers and parents, says he's hearing increasingly often that parents are ignoring their children in favour of screens.

"Some of the children were saying to me 'I wish my mum or dad would put their device down and spend a bit more time with me. I miss them'."


Parsons said when he asked one year 9 girl what she would like to do with her mother the reply was "just go for a walk together".

But, the girl added, even if they did go for the walk her mother would start taking pictures with her phone instead of talking to her.

"She said 'why don't they take pictures with their mind or their memory instead of their phone?'," Parsons said.

"Other children say 'I go up to my parents to show them I've done something and they say "well done, I'm proud of you" but they don't even look at me when they say it'.

"We don't have a technology issue, we have a relationship issue and if we want children to change their use of technology then we need to change ours."

Parsons said the net effect of ignoring children meant they would feel lonely, sad and vulnerable.

"The three most important assets a child needs to use technology safely are self-control, empathy and a strong sense of self-worth.

"All of that can be found in a home that nurtures, loves and protects the child. The most important relationship a child has is the one they have with family, not the one they have with technology."

Parsons has worked for 15 years with victims of of cyber crime through his company Citizen 21 Ltd.

He has visited Taupo annually to work work with police in schools and communities, with students and parents and to provide child protection training for teachers.

He also has run free workshops for parents on keeping children safe online but there was poor parent turnout this time. In one school, with a roll of 1000 students, only 35 to 40 parents showed.

"You often don't get the parents you need to talk to and it's a shame because every parent should show a commitment to protecting their children in the online world."

Parsons said the best protection for children online was "nosy loving parents". Allowing access to age-appropriate technology but setting sensible limits is important. So too was modelling the behaviour you expect.

"A child learns to use technology based on how the adults around them use it.
He says parents often expect schools to educate their children about technology but children are on devices is outside school hours and largely unsupervised.

"I've never met a school that's introduced a kid to an R18 game or allowed a kid to spend three hours on a device."

"I'm seeing children aged seven or eight in the sick bay at school because they haven't had enough sleep.

"I'm seeing children in all of the classes that I go to that are not getting to bed until 11pm or 12am because they are on their devices."

Parsons worked with victims of cyber crime, online groomers and paedophiles and said many parents were unaware of the dangers online.

"I'm seeing children as young as six and seven on games like Fortnite where the developer age for that is 12.

"Games can be infected with predators and paedophiles ... children as young as six and seven can sit in their bedroom night after night talking to complete strangers around the world and that empowers paedophiles."

He said New Zealand needs to be talking about how it raises its children.

"They need to be raised with love, compassion, and non-judgement and [for us to] develop open lines of communication with them so they can talk about anything in their life."