We live in a period where evolution is constant; where new technologies make their way into our lives ever so often, where online trends rise and fall and where almost everybody with access to the Internet is enthralled by the possibilities of the digital world.
And that includes your children.
The World Wide Web has opened up a host of possibilities for young minds. Children can turn learning into fun with the added element of exploration and discovery; connecting with interesting peers and understanding cultures from around the world is now possible like never before. Unfortunately, the net is also a landmine of risks for impressionable minds.
There are two areas that could potentially upset children’s lives: inappropriate websites related to subjects like pornography and graphic violence, and online social networking, where all kinds of people establish and lead digital lives, including cyber bullies, scammers and sexual predators.
Mirror your kids’ online habits
If you have young children or family members, it’s very important for you to understand the internet. How will you know about the dangers that Facebook poses if you’re not on it? Using the internet will help you discover the potential threats that lurk on the web. By setting up online accounts, participating in forum discussions and also mimicking your children’s online habits occasionally, could give you an insight into the what their online lives are like and how you could protect them from the dangers there.
Besides, being an active user will give you the kind of technical prowess you need to monitor your children’s internet usage.
Cyber Bullying, Suicide Forums, Online Grooming and other dangerous trends
Over the last few years, online trends have changed and continue to change rapidly. From social networking to microblogging, you never know what’s going to be the next in-thing. As a busy parent, whose profession may or not involve using the internet, it will be hard for you to know what’s new out there and how it could affect your child’s life, unless you make a conscious effort to keep tabs.
Dangerous cyber threats have emerged over the last few years with serious online consequences. Our schools have turned into battle fields with hierarchical structures, where the most popular or extroverted kids hold sway; as a result, fitting-in is top priority for most kids. These days, almost 90% of the children who are bullied at school, experience some form of online bullying by the same classmates too. In addition, unrelated cyber bullies prowl the web, pestering children to reveal passwords or battering their self-confidence. Besides, there are hundreds of online forums where unpleasant behavior is encouraged, like physical violence, eating disorders, self-harm and so on.
Child grooming, where sexual predators befriend children, earn their trust with the intention of abusing them, has taken an ugly online form. Most public chat rooms for young children and teenagers are frequented by predators. They will almost always lie about their age to earn the child’s trust and try to get to the most vulnerable in the group.
Parents should join online parent networks or vigilance groups, take part in discussions with other parents on the web or subscribe to newsletters that dispense information about dangerous online trends. Staying in-tune with what’s going on, on the web, can help you watch out for signs of trouble or warn your kids about the same.
Ask them, ‘Met anybody new on Facebook today?’
As parents you can take the following precautions:
- Limit the number of hours your kids spend on the internet
- Encourage physical activities and hobbies that do not involve the computer
- Do not permit computers in rooms of very young children
- Watch out for signs like children switching off monitors or switching screens in your presence
- Look out for other unrelated signs like withdrawal, unprecedented secrecy, long-distance calls to unknown numbers, calls from unknown adults and so on.
However, there’s a limit to the amount of monitoring you can do and your monitoring efforts should be complimented with a healthy, trustworthy relationship with your child.
You should encourage chats about online safety, the sites your children might have visited and what they learnt from surfing the net that day or a new game they might have tried out.
These regular conversations could keep you updated about their digital lives, which remain invisible to most parents. Just as you would ask them about their school, ask them if they met anyone new on Facebook that day. In an environment of open, healthy interaction about the internet, children may volunteer information if they have met people who are acting strange or are being bullied online.
Is Privacy still important? You bet
Most youngsters, especially teenagers today, are growing up in a world where there’s little value for privacy. With status updates, photo albums, blogging and other forms of online self-expression, most of them do not understand the importance of restraint. Help your children understand why privacy is important. Also, illustrate how online identities can be uncovered, addresses and phone numbers discovered, so they do not take risks on the web.
Security software, family settings and other tools
With the unfortunate evolution of online predators and unsuitable sites, technology has evolved too. Thankfully, parents can maintain some control over young children’s online habits with tools devised for this purpose. Family settings are available for internet use, online gaming and video viewing. With family settings, parents can control which games their children play, which movies they watch and even the duration that they can spend on specific activities like gaming or chatting.
Similarly, parent control software can help parents block adult sites, public chat rooms and set timers for surfing the net.
Scammers can reach you through your kids
Sometimes, it is not just kids but adults too who could be at risk. Ensure that your child does not have your bank details, passwords or other sensitive information. Sometimes, scammers and cheats can try to get to your finances through your kids. Help your children understand what online scams, phishing emails and identity threats are all about.