The internet has become part of human daily activities. Data and smartphones’ costs keep falling and are destroying the fetters of acquisition. But with the increasing challenge of parenting among career women and men, the mobile phone has become a kind of bridge among children in school, house maids and the kids. Experts give hints on how the kids can be protected from cyber predators.
It has become increasingly difficult to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, especially as a parent trying to keep children safe as they grow up immersed in the digital world. Cybercrime, grooming, sexting, social media and so many others are begging for attention.
The differentiator for children no longer comes from whether or not they are online or have a device – smartphones, tablets, laptops and hotspots are everywhere – but rather, what social network they use or what secret place is the newest must-know space to attend.
Computers are binary, with no grey areas. If the kids know how to log into a site and clear their history, or they have a secret password and parents don’t, they are stuck.
Without that knowledge, it’s like the kids disappearing from home in the real world: you can’t find out where they go, who they meet, what they do, what they say or what is said to them. Most parents wouldn’t even know if their kid was missing online.
The internet is not the message, but it is the conduit for other media such as Twitter, Television, newspapers, and networks such as Facebook, Instagram and thousands of other members-only spaces. This is where the messages lie, on these well-known sites and networks and others parents might never have heard of; where just being there is the message kids communicate to their peers.
Research released for this year’s Safer Internet Day in the United Kingdom (UK) revealed that one in five children surveyed had been bullied with online images or videos. Additionally, roughly 70 per cent of kids had seen images and videos “not suitable for their age” while surfing the web.
How do parents catch up? How do they guide, protect, instruct and parent? Some techniques here might help parents in guiding their kids safely in digital spaces as they do in the real world, leaving kids enough space to explore, grow and develop. According to the International Business Times of UK, parents could be assisted to feel confident that their children are safe and protected when they’re online with the following tips:
Most online services these days come with privacy or safe modes built-in. It’s important to switch them on for the kids. Filtering technology can block harmful websites, age-restricted games, forums, chatrooms and anything else you choose. Some apps can do everything from create weekly reports for you about browsing to log the keystrokes on a device. The extent of the control needed is up to you, but beware if you are too strict you will likely be met with rebellion.
Make a point of checking the internet search history at the end of the day to ensure everything viewed is satisfactory. This is easiest if the parent created for the child a dedicated account on a home computer or device. They may learn how to delete their own records. So, like most options the parents have this is not a full-proof choice.
Make kids’ computers/ devices visible
This will largely depend on the age of the child, but for the young ones, it is advised to only let them use a computer, smartphone or tablet in a place where it can be monitored by an adult. When used alongside web filtering, this can be an effective method of keeping an eye on what is being searched, viewed or watched on the web.
On the internet, a 50-year-old man can pose as a 15-year-old girl, chatrooms can be used for grooming and personal information is given away at the click of a mouse. Yet, it is also a place for discovery; a tool to help with homework and a way to learn more about the world. Parents and children need to communicate and talk about what the internet is, what it is not, and how to recognise the more lurid aspects of it.
Know kids are savvy
When most parents were growing up, they had VHS, cassette tapes and dial up. In comparison, the kids have Snapchat, Facebook, virtual reality, streaming services and online gaming. They have grown up in a world of touchscreens and data plans; a world where content is free and personal information means little. The world has changed and parents are likely behind the times. Do not accept it, just be aware of it. The key in all this is not to rely on technology to solve your problems, but use it as a complement to good old-fashioned education.
“It is fair to say that in 2017 the internet is powered by images and videos. This can magnify the risks and pressures that young people face, while also offering new opportunities for self-expression and creativity.
“This Safer Internet Day young people around the UK are uniting to inspire a better internet. We need to harness this enthusiasm and empower them to ‘be the change’ and use the power of image to help create a better internet,” Director, UK Safer Internet Centre, Will Gardner, said.
The Irish Times says its tips for digital parenting are first steps, as the issues are myriad, requiring different approaches and attitudes. It said parents will probably need to upskill, or at least talk to someone in the know who’s thinking of the kids and parenting, rather than selling software or hardware.
Do not be prissy. If language or themes are on traditional media, the cat is out of the bag and you might lose respect. Online behaviour and attitudes are polarised, from extremely high moral attitudes and manners where people vie to take the offence at the merest slight, to frightening vice, gore, horror, debauchery and creepiness. But most online content is informative, funny and appropriate, so middling attitudes work best.
That said, clamp down hard on what you feel is inappropriate. Let them know where the line is and what you’d think (and do) if they cross it. There is nothing to be gained by sounding old fashioned and out of touch. Kids need to know that you expect good behaviour.
Keep control of modem
This ends all discussion and debate, so protect it. Taking a digital holiday is also a good idea (for you too!). Limit hours, access and switch off at night. We aim for free-range children and lots of outdoor play when we can – which provides some balance.
Seize devices when
Even for a few hours, seizing of devices provides super leverage for the completion of homework, household chores and good manners. But don’t overuse it. Hours quickly become a currency, which can lose their effect or result in unrealistic and unuseful periods of confiscation. Kids need technology for homework these days, so it can be like confiscating their schoolbooks.
No private passwords
Email? Skype? Whatsapp? Snapchat? If kids are using them, parents must have the passwords. Any secret spaces result in zero use of any device; secret spaces allow them to wander the dangerous digital safari alone.
No clearing of histories
To review progeny activity online one needs to see it. So, histories must not be cleared and no “private” browsers either. Minecraft videos are a regular, alongside homework and occasionally the pop star du jour.
Use devices in public spaces
Open doors, lights on, sitting room or kitchen for the younger ones-no secrecy, no worries.
Apple single device login and a single iTunes account saves a fortune, but also means one knows what has been downloaded immediately – and that one can delete it from all devices should the need arise.
No private phones
This is a difficult one for the tweens, but every cheap smartphone is a mini-computer, so the same rules apply as with laptop or tablet. If you permit a private device there is little point in doing anything else for the child’s safety. An occasional audit or discussion is required as they have moved beyond your safety cordon and are at risk.
No devices before
Unless it genuinely includes internet research, which it often does, devices must not be allowed before hoemwork.
Ideally, use of devices should be a reward. If they become the norm, too much screen time can lead to addiction and not enough exercise.
If you spot something shocking, understand it may have been visited accidentally, may not have been understood – or may have been understood and dismissed by the child as inappropriate.
A pattern rather than a once-off transgression is what could indicate a real problem – regular visits to dodgy spaces or material on purpose. Other signs include hiding surfing tracks, too much time online or mood changes. All are a concern and need to be addressed immediately. At the same time, remember that by the time you spot something, it may have been going on for some time. It’s not easy, so use your best judgment.
Apart from the cost, kids will see hotspots available on their devices, and if they know the passwords, they’ll use them. It’s easy to find the passwords too, so make sure you have bluetooth turned off when it’s time to shut down.
Listen to kids
Kids will invariably say what’s on their mind, sometimes by accident. If they are discussing something with siblings or with you, which is random, unusual or inappropriate, it may indicate they’re getting information they are struggling to understand, and the internet is likely the culprit. Open your ears and you may pick up something you missed in your most recent online audit.