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How to keep children safe in the digital world

Being aware of your child’s digital life is essentialsl1

The Internet, social media and technology present many opportunities for our children. But they need guidance to navigate their way in the digital world. The recent suicides caused by the Blue Whale challenge only highlight this need.

The dangers

Gaming addiction: While parents are concerned about the violence in computer games, they may not realize another danger – gaming addiction.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized gaming addiction as a mental health disorder.

Online gaming interferes with both social relationships and academic performance.  It creates mood problems and hampers the development of interpersonal skills. Parents may need to seek professional assistance.

Pornography: Ten million Twitter accounts are reportedly dedicated to porn. Do not think your child is safe because his tweets are protected and that he will not interact with an unknown person. It is important to talk to your teens about the harmful effects of pornography.

As parents, limit access to sensitive sites such as certain chat rooms and adult sites since you cannot monitor your children 24/7. Children should be warned that sex offenders use social networking, chat rooms, e-mails and online gaming to contact and exploit them.

Catphishing: This is a scam where the perpetrator uses a fabricated identity to trick someone via cyber communication into a phoney emotional (often romantic) relationship for financial gain. Or, a teen could be lured into a relationship to bully him or her or create public shame for revenge.

Warning signs are an overly attractive profile photo (your teen could use Google reverse image search to verify the identity) or the fake person coming suddenly into the victim’s social media map.

Cyberbullying: This occurs when someone uses technology to send threatening, hurtful or embarrassing messages. It is a matter of grave concern as there have been cases of suicides among victims.

Parents need to keep the cyberbullying dialogue as open as possible while enforcing a zero tolerance for bullying behaviour online (and offline).

Social media addiction: While many teens use social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat it becomes a true behavioural disorder when the extreme levels begin to affect relationships and studies. If your teenager is avoiding activities he usually likes and is instead spending hours online interacting with people he does not know in real life, you should be concerned.

Lure of advertising: Today, youngsters are bombarded with advertisements while they are surfing or posting on social media sites. Parents need to put this rampant consumerism on digital devices in perspective for their children.

Sleep disruption: Sleep experts agree that the average person loses an hour’s sleep a night as a result of being active on smartphones or other devices. Teenagers require more sleep than toddlers because of mental, physical, emotional and hormonal changes. Parents should ensure a ‘tech-free’ bedtime so that their teens get a good night’s sleep.

Texting and driving: This risky practice could land your teen in hospital. Pledge never to text and drive and see that your teen follows your example.

What parents can do


Limit screen time: Parents need to talk to their children and fix the number of hours they can spend in front of a screen (TV, video game, laptop or phone). Screen time should not be allowed to displace face-to-face interaction, family time, outdoor play, hobbies, exercise and sleep. For every hour of screen time, provide an equal hour of truly engaged family time.

Get involved: It is important for parents to be involved in their child’s digital life. They should know their children’s friends, both online and offline. They should find out what platforms, software and apps their kids are using and what sites they are visiting. Parents should discourage children from oversharing as images, thoughts and behaviour they share online will become a part of their digital footprint.

Encourage constructive use: Children could play video games or they could learn animation tools. They could browse Facebook or they could create pages and communities that serve a purpose.  Encourage activities that enhance learning including reading and taking up online courses.

Teach them resilience: A child should have the resilience to bounce back from online nastiness which he experiences or observes. He should know that his self-worth cannot be measured by likes, shares and retweets.

In sum, parents should do their best to minimize online dangers and ensure the healthy development of their children. Children should be equipped to use technology properly, effectively and safely.

Sources: arizonasports.com, www.healthychildren.org, The Economic Times, www.internetmatters.org  

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