WORDS JENNIFER F. NETTO
There’s nothing more comforting than to have your chicks safely back in the roost as they unwind on their gadgets in the solace of their rooms. But are they truly alone in their rooms and are they truly safe? Online gadgets are windows to another world, and no one is looking out for your child there. So how do we shield them from the unwarranted possibilities that lie in that realm?
INTERNET, A DOUBLE- EDGED SWORD
The Internet has evolved tremendously and shrunken the size of the world we live in. The way we communicate, socialize, educate, trade, and run daily businesses of small to large scales have seen a paradigm shift from Graham Bell’s first telephone in the 19th Century to Zuse’s first binary computer invented in his parent’s living room in Germany in the early 20th century. The emergence of the Internet era brought marvels in the way the world worked around time and space, but like a double-edged sword, it continues to bring destruction in the hands of irresponsible people. While we have heard much in the media of grown adults being scammed out of their money and integrity, agencies and multinational companies succumbing to cybercrimes, and governments dealing with cyber security issues, our children are unfortunately not spared in this coded pandemic.
SPIDERS OF THE WORLD WIDE WEB
“With great powers come great responsibilities,” said Uncle Ben and he was right! The Internet has changed the way children learn and interact. It has become a wonderful medium for kids to research school projects, communicate with teachers and peers, and play interactive games that enhance their motor and cognitive skills. But if this infinite channel is used irresponsibly, it can be detrimental to our young ones because the threats on the Internet are real and they are not to be taken lightly.
According to the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), the major threats that are faced on a daily basis are cyberbullying, sexting, pornography, violence, racial abuse and hatred, addictive online gaming and gambling, and online fraud and deception. These have become serious threats for anyone going online. The Malaysian Council for Child Welfare reported that suicidal and self-harm cases are on a rise among children as a result of cyberbullying and cyber gaming.
These threats cannot be brushed aside as children are being exposed to these dangers at a very tender age. Parents cannot afford to be oblivious to what they open their child to, as such ignorance is costly. You might think that your child is safe because he or she is merely playing through an app which is not opened to the World Wide Web via an internet browser, and assume he or she cannot be bullied or be preyed upon.
Online apps allow a child to interact with others, and online predators may pose as a child or teen looking to make new friends. These posers may prod your child to exchange personal information, such as address and phone number, or encourage your child to call them so that they can see the phone number via caller ID.
SUPERVISION OR SNOOPERVISION?
The Asian parents of the Internet era are slowly breaking the stereotypical Asian parents of yesteryears—nosey, zero privacy and a litany of distrusting questions all day are slowly phased-out in these times, as privacy and independence take precedence. However, online safety should not be a variable in the changing trends of parenting. It is absolutely crucial to be extra vigilant on your child’s Internet activity because they cannot be entrusted with this heavy responsibility entirely on their own. Yes, your teenager is turning into an adult and in order to gain their respect you may think it’s necessary to trust them and to give them their space and privacy. But being teenagers ourselves, once upon a time, peer pressure and hormonal impulses is known to get the better of anyone and it is not a trust issue. So instead of snooping around your kids to see what’s going on in their lives, openly supervise them. Open a strong channel of communication with them so nothing is kept a secret in fear of being judged or punished or worse—outcasted.
Remind them, daily if you must, of the importance of staying safe with their personal information, passwords and photographs, and of not accepting strangers on their social media or gaming apps or revealing their whereabouts to strangers on the Internet. Raise their awareness about the perverts online who can possibly threaten your child sexually; who prey on the young, innocent, immature, and self-esteem of children. A study from the Journal of Adolescent Health confirms that explaining the consequences of actions by sharing with children or young teens the unfortunate real-life stories from the media caused by Internet threats can help them know how real these threats are. This can open a path for them to go to their parents when they start feeling pressured, afraid or threatened by friends or other online users.
It also helps to be their social media followers and gaming buddies. Take time to participate in their online activities as a way to monitor their behaviour and those who interact with them. On another note, as much as you are protecting your child from threats, be sure your child is not a threat to others. Educate your young ones on the importance of digital integrity and reputation—to be considerate and kind on social media, to respect others even when they have different views from yours and not to spread rumours or private contents of others. These habits can help prevent drawing trouble for themselves too.
CONTROL INTERNET USE
For parents with children who are too young to openly communicate matters, you can filter your kids’ Internet use by setting up iOS and Android profiles for them which can help you restrict or monitor the apps and games they download to their gadgets or the websites they visit. Some devices even come with time limit on Internet use—a good way to balance out their daily activities especially for parents who are busy working and their children are being cared by caretakers instead. Many software programmes and apps available in digital stores can give you detailed reports of your child’s browsing history and tell you how much time your child spent online and on each site. Utilise the child- friendly browsers by Google, Bing or Yahoo and block pop-ups that could surprise your child with X-rated content. Activate firewalls if you must. In addition, it helps to educate your child’s caretaker too—you can never be too careful.
IGNORE, BLOCK, DELETE, AND REPORT!
Knowing the lurking cyber threats can help in identifying them and acting accordingly. It is important to know when to ignore, block or delete the threat and to report them immediately. Some social sites like Facebook and Instagram have channels to do this within their portal. HT
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