Online safety is one of growing concern for parents, especially when our children spend a large chunk of their time in the digital world. The question arises as how to explain internet safety to children and protect them from the danger the internet poses.
“It has never been easier for bullies, sex offenders, traffickers and those who harm children to contact potential victims around the world, share images of their abuse and encourage each other to commit further crimes. Digital connectivity has made children more accessible through unprotected social media profiles and online game forums. It also allows offenders to be anonymous – reducing their risk of identification and prosecution –expand their networks, increase profits and pursue many victims at once.
Children’s privacy is also at stake. Most children – and many parents – have very limited, if any, awareness of how much personal data they are feeding into the internet, much less how it might one day be used. No child is safe from online risk, but the most vulnerable are those most likely to suffer the harms”.
(Excerpt from UNICEF, ‘Children in Digital world’)
Oh my God! This is scary. I cringed reading this research finding. Did you feel the same?
How to keep our children safe? Should we restrict their access to the digital world?
No, it’s not feasible.
We can’t shun technology and tag it as evil. Just imagine, how we would have survived without technology in the pandemic crisis. It helped us thrive and now our dependency on technology due to online and virtual classes has increased more than ever.
In the current world:
Our children start school on the computer. Take up a piano, drama, chess lessons, with the teacher sitting on the other side of the world. Play online Pubgy, Minecraft, Roblox and other online games with friends.
Connect on Zoom call to bond. Post pictures on Instagram, Facebook. Watch and upload videos on YouTube and TikTok. Follow their favourite Influencer, post comments on Twitter.
This increased exposure brought in additional risks. We can’t shut the digital world, but we need to find ways to reduce and monitor its concerning impact on our children.
What are the risks?
The major risks come in the form of:
Interaction with strangers:
Is the child interacting with strangers? Oh! it could be a predator.
Predators contacting, why do we need to worry? Do you know, there is a difference in the way an adult and children perceive strangers.
Where we adult feels apprehensive of strangers online, our children find it exciting and see as an opportunity to make new friends.
Unknown requests, sharing their intimate details, feelings, emotions, and showing vulnerability comes easy to children in the virtual world.
They feel less inhibited in opening up in the digital world than to us.
Also, lots of children with self-esteem issue or when their parents are unavailable spend time online to feel better, they try to find escapism in the virtual world.
Why children seek help outside?
Children when in problem (specially teens and tweens), they instead of turning to parents seek advice outside.
(It gets scary when you think about how reliable and sensible that advice would be.)
Our children often turn away from our advice thinking us to be restrictive, suggestive and authoritative.
They feel we won’t understand and making us lose the battle before the start.
Don’t know how the child is behaving online.
How our children behaving in the digital world often go unnoticed. Some children find a way to show their other person to the world hiding behind, in form of trolls and abuse.
Being a young and developing mind they don’t understand the severity and complications of such conduct.
Cyberbullying is one of the common form of such behaviour and it could lead to serious consequences.
How the content is impacting the child?
We have to be watchful of the content our children watching. There are a lot of inappropriate contents out there.
Besides, content have psychological impact on child’s development.
Alongside our children are prey to the marketer’s gimmicks to serve their commercial interest.
We may restrict certain content, but what should we do about these games, advertisement, videos which groom children at subliminal level?
Privacy concern: How is your data used?
Why the privacy terms and policies are not written in simple language?
Why are they complex to read and understand?
Most of the time we start reading first few lines and give up to accept the terms and conditions without even knowing what exactly we said ‘yes to’.
Imagine our children how aware are they about these terms.
In the pool of websites, apps, games, social media, we are in the heck of getting few freebies provide our personal information.
Currently, we have no clarity how this information is used beside serving marketer business and commercial interests.
We stay clueless on how and who all are using our data.
Long term implications:
How is the information going to impact your child’s future?
Adolescents already experiencing new and complex emotions might not realize the potential impacts on their privacy or how they spend their time.
It can also create potentially serious results in an economy where individuals ’online histories may impact their future.
Once a piece of information is out on the internet, it could hardly be deleted, and can be fetched to use against, anytime.
How to prevent harm
How effective is parental control?
We set parental control and assume that we have control of their activities, which is mostly an illusion.
Children find ways to avoid adult oversight and we stay even more in the dark –with the effect of making our children potentially more vulnerable to the very threats we fear.
Prying on children makes children uncomfortable, but leaving them completely is also scary.
It’s a dilemma to decide whether to give our children complete autonomy, holding faith in them, or be a vigilant parent monitoring all their activities.
How to safeguard our children?
What can we do about it?
When our children move towards adolescence, we need to move from a restricted mode to connection mode.
Taking time out to talk to them on a daily basis helps. We need to focus on building a strong bond with them so that they don’t hesitate to share their fear and troubles. Sadly, it’s easily said than done.
In spite of having concern about our children, we feel inadequate when we run short of time, knowledge and resources.
We understand that parental oversight is crucial, but we lose track of our children online activities when we our juggling and running errands.
But we need to at least follow certain modus operandi to protect our children, we could try to:
· Build open communication with the child.
· Connect emotionally and build trust in children that we stand with them.
· Choose guiding over correction.
· Set control, have a clear communication with the child and explain the concerns.
· Be firm and consistent in following rule.
· Use resources to create awareness.
· Avoid harsh punishment.
· Be involved in the child life to be watchful.
· Talk about you and child activities on a day-to-day basis.
· Be observant for any kind of sudden behavioural change.
· Monitor online activities.
· Be watchful if they show signs of vulnerability
· Keep a mix of outdoor and digital activities and
· Make a list of movies, games, and videos: watch, review and then allow access to them.
It’s a constant struggle for us to keep away our children craving for devices and the digital world. But our restriction is not the answer, because our children find ways to sneak out.
Our focus should be less on restrictions and more on open communication.
We need to build digital awareness, resilience and capacity to manage risks, and develop a bond where children feel comfortable communicating their problems with us.
We need to keep trying and that what parenting journey is about.
We love to hear from you, share your thoughts and tips in the comment below. Also, do your bit and share this article with others to create awareness and safeguard our children.
<www.voicesofyouth.org/en/sections/content/pages/sowc-2017> Digital Dangers: The harms of life online