The internet is a boon for those who use it the right way (for searching information, for their academic pursuits, or to inform a curious young mind).
It’s no surprise that children have taken to the Internet in a big way and that India’s urban children spend over 4 hours a day on the mobile internet.
Whether on the internet or on social media sites, young millennials rely on their smartphones for every type of decision-making – food, entertainment, social life, or fashion.
This also means that they are exposed to the negative side of the internet. Pornography, dubious characters, misinformation, cyberbullying and hate speech – all of these can impact the formative years of children and teens and leave lifelong scars.
With about 134 million Indian children coming online in 2017, the online ecosystem needs to be made secure enough for them to browse freely without any harmful effects or negative sentiments.
The extent of the menace
While there are many forms of cybercrime (hacking. phishing, or copyright violation), perhaps the vulnerability of children to social media offences is the most prominent.
Though the legal age for many social media sites is 13 years, it is not surprising to see children as young as 9 years have their own active accounts on these platforms.
As parents too, we are seldom aware of the harmful repercussions of posting messages and photos on the social media. From paedophiles to cyber bullies, there are many waiting in the anonymity of the internet, to access materials that could compromise your child’s identity and safety.
The most common forms of harassment against children online include cyberbullying, online eve-teasing, and impersonation. Add to this mix the youth-centric functional model adopted by some sites like Snapchat, and we see a whole new level of safety issues that we need to address as a modern-day parent.
Some children may face acute bullying, sexual harassment, or other forms of online exploitation, thanks to the ephemeral nature of content within apps like Snapchat. It is no wonder that 32% of the parents interviewed in a survey said that their children faced a negative experience online in the past.
Here are some ways you can protect your child from negative experiences online.
Lay down ground rules
As a parent, you need to set the standard for safe internet browsing rules at home. Imagine if you’re letting your child play in a new park or garden. Wouldn’t you stick around and check out at the different rides and swings to ensure their safety? The same principle applies to the internet.
Ideally, you have to be around them when they are browsing online. Once they turn 12 or more, they may demand privacy to do their own thing. It is completely natural for them to want that, but privacy is earned.
So don’t let them shut the door. Keep checking on them at frequent intervals. This way, you can be certain that you are there for them without being ever-present.
Make your devices child-safe
You need to child-safe your child’s mobile device, computer and search engines to ensure that your children aren’t exposed to the dangerous side of the Internet. You can download a kid-safe browser for Android devices or iPads.
For Internet Explorer, you can traverse to ‘Tools -> Internet Options -> Content -> Content Advisor’ to filter out aspects like language and nudity. You can tune up your Google search with the SafeSearch option that only returns results that are suitable for younger children. The good news is that both these settings are free to use.
You can also subscribe to and encourage the use of child-safe websites over their more popular alternatives. Examples include YouTube Kids (instead of YouTube, for videos). You can also download parental control apps for iPhones and Android devices.
Monitor ‘ephemeral posts’
The short life of posts on platforms like Snapchat is a major cause of worry for parent across the globe. The ephemeral content posted on Snapchat means that other children, adults, and criminals can traumatize your child and get away with it, with nary a trace of their shenanigans.
If you’re worried about the time your child spends on Snapchat, look to counter potential issues with the best snap spy apps. While Snapchat automatically deletes snaps after a few seconds, you can download these apps and track the content that your child received.
The large-scale and rapid proliferation of the Internet means that children have received little to no sensitization and training on internet browsing best practices.
A good remedial first step towards educating your child about basic protocols on the internet and digital safety would be to fortify your knowledge base first.
For this, you can refer to this handy app. The IT Act, 200 & Cyber Law India app has a repository of knowledge around cyber laws and best practices.
It also has a separate section about cyber safety tips for children. As a concerned parent, you can check out this section and help your child be a better Netizen.
Now that you are aware of the laws, you can teach them basic rules like
- Not disclosing name, address, contact number, school name, etc. without checking with you
- Not opening emails from strangers
- Not responding to hate messages or bullies
- Not agreeing to meet face-to-face with someone they have recently befriended.
The internet has a lot to offer in terms of learning enhancement and virtual social interaction. However, it can also turn out to be a damaging experience, if you’re not careful.
With these tips, the Internet need not become a scary technology for your young kids. Help your child have a safe browsing experience with these handy tips.
Got any other exciting ways to protect the internet safety of your child? Want to share them with us? Do comment below and let us know your own tips for staying safe online.