Keeping Children Safe on the Internet

I often reminisce my childhood days when my brother and I, along with our group of friends, would go on bicycle trips around our area. We would later play cricket and football in the open field, and sometimes our local games of Laggori and Gilli Danda and Marbles. Those days seem to be gone now. There are no open fields to be seen in concrete jungles like Bangalore; and parks are made for people walking or jogging for fitness and so are not child-friendly.

 

However, the bigger issue seems to be that children today seem to enjoy staying indoors. They play games online on their computers or tablets. This poses a number of new-age threats, and this article attempts to prepare you to keep yourself and your child safe on the internet.

The Dark Web: Much of the internet is a fabulous resource for kids, whether it’s Wikipedia for helping with homework, online games, social networks, videos, music and more. However, there are an equal number of websites that you wouldn’t want them going anywhere near.

A recent study by the Oxford University revealed that of 515 interviewed 12 to 15-year-old children, 14 percent had had a ‘negative’ online experience in the past year, 8 percent had been contacted by strangers, almost 4 percent had seen someone pretend to be them online, 2 percent has seen sexual content that made them feel uncomfortable, and three percent had seen something that scared them. 90 percent of the children’s parents either did not know what parental filters were or they were not using them. While this statistic is not in India, our children are not far behind and so it is important for us to be careful.

Some tips for you to keep your children and grandchildren safe in the use of gadgets:

  1. Set an Example: Children pick up the habits of their parents and grandparents. If the parents are constantly glued to their gadgets, you can’t expect children to do otherwise. The initial thing to do is to set an example for them, refrain from using gadgets at home or keep it to a bare minimum in their presence. Children will see and imitate your reading, outdoor activities and hobbies. So lead them to these activities.
  2. Set some Boundaries: You are the parent (or grandparent). You make the rules of the house. Make it clear that using gadgets will be a privilege and that privilege will be bestowed upon them as per your approval. Common sense plays a bigger part than you might think. For a start do not allow children to use a device in their own room. You should also make it plain what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable online. You might, for example, tell your child that they’re not allowed to download apps or files without your permission first, nor share a file with anyone without your consent. You could also set rules about whether they can use any instant messaging services, tell them not to reply to unsolicited emails or sign up for free accounts without you first checking that it’s ok.
  3. Explain the Dangers: One important thing to do is to talk to each child and explain the dangers that the internet could pose to them. Also encourage them to tell you if they receive any threatening or frightening messages or emails. Make sure children understand that they should never give out identifying information about themselves, friends, or family members. This includes names, addresses, phone numbers, where you work, email addresses, passwords, social security numbers, and credit card numbers.
  4. Be familiar with the Territory: Get familiar with the websites your child or grandchild visits. Have them show you their favourite sites and discuss what they like about them. The internet is a treasure trove of information for you as well. Get online and check out those games and sites he / she visits.
  5. Encourage other activities: Motivate children to participate in outdoor activities or games, this will help in keeping them physically fit and will also help them in initiating creative and imaginative play. Playing with them is also necessary; it will increase adult-child interaction and also encourage them to practice this behaviour. Provide the necessary resources like books to read, board games, art supplies, and/or sporting equipment so that the child can have more than one things to do. Encourage hobbies and extra-curricular activities like Music.
  6. Create Tech-Free Zones: There should be areas in your house that should be tech free, like the dining area, the living room or any other area where the family gathers together. Also it is important to call time out from using gadgets during meal times, or the time the family spends together. You will have to lead by example.
  7. Set parental Controls: Parental controls are restrictions on the device which prevent the child from accessing content that you have intentionally blocked. You can set these controls yourself. While some parental controls are natively available on the device itself, you can also download additional apps to do this for you. There are both paid as well as free apps for the same.
  8. Get involved in their lives: For many parents, it is just easier to buy a gadget than to actually be involved in the lives of their children. But those intimate life details are required for successful parenting. So observe, listen, ask, and parent. Don’t buy a gadget because the children want to fit in with their social circle. Buy it only if you are convinced of it is utility and if it fits your affordability. It is your job to encourage healthy behaviours and limit unhealthy ones, and sometimes this means making unpopular decisions. Explain why you have made the decision: this will help them follow through and someday choose it for themselves. If you notice that your child is addicted to the gadgets, it is advisable to do a digital detox.
  9. Seek Professional Help: Many times gadget addiction is a symptom of underlying Anxiety Disorder or Depression. If all else fails, visiting a Psychiatrist or a Psychologist will help; they will help the child calm down and teach you ways to deal with your child and also recommend medications if required.

 

Gadgets have become more reachable now than before. Now with the internet being so accessible, information is available everywhere. But let us remember that “Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all”. So let us inform ourselves on the dangers of the web, learn about it, and have the foresight to take appropriate action while there is still time.

Roger Ephraim

Gadget Expert

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