Many parents across the world have lost their sleep and sanity in the wake of the recent deaths of children attributed to the killer online game “The BlueWhale Challenge”. Blue Whale challenge is just one of the many possibilities lurking out there to grab the attention of our children. It is a sad but inevitable truth of the times we live in that keeping children away from the internet is not an option many parents have, and even if they do, it’s only a matter of time before they give in.
Gone are the good old days, when kids copied homework and exam syllabus from the blackboard onto their school diaries, to be shown to and signed by the parents. Today, most schools have their own apps to update homework and other assignments. Children and parents have no choice but to be tech-savvy to operate these apps to stay in tune with the ongoings at school.
Access to the internet has its own perils and as parents, the onus is on us to keep our children safe from online threats. A little precaution and proactive thinking could go a long way in ensuring the safe keep of our children or in some cases averting a disaster just in time.
As a mother of a set of seven-year olds who are already adept with operating tablets, mobiles and laptops and connecting the gadgets to the Wi-Fi to download and install games, the only questions that have been on the top of my mind (knowing that I really can’t do much to completely keep them off the internet, and I do not wish to play the dictator mom and create future rebels….well, the choice is personal) are “Is my child safe online?” , “Can I stop them from using the internet?“, “Is there a way I can teach my children to use the internet safely?” among others.
Yes, there are some checks and balances that if implemented early on may help in keeping our children safe, and us sane!
- Educate early and often about online safety
It is very important to openly discuss the importance of online safety with your children at an early age. A child who can use the computer and the internet is mature enough to be told about the threats he is exposed to in the online world. Children may still be using the computer under your supervision, but take this opportunity to openly discuss with them the fact that the online world has a lot of unsafe things and he must know how to be protected. Just as we teach a child not to accept gifts from any stranger in the real world, we must also sensitise the child to keep away from strangers in the virtual world.
- Become a part of their cyber world
Parents need to get involved and ask friendly questions, not interrogate, in order for the child to open up and share about his games and online friends. I often ask my son, what’s the new game he is playing and how he scores? I also check the tablet my children access and keep a tab of all the games installed and URLs visited. I may sound snoopy, but yes, I do it.
- Set home rules
Just like rules around house chores set rules around internet time and kind of games allowed. Decide how much time you’re comfortable with your children being online and which sites they may go to and get their buy in. As a rule, my children are not allowed to install more than two games on the tablet at any given point in time. If they get bored with one game they must uninstall it before installing a new one. Also, any game that has violence, as in a gun fight, punching, abusive language, killing etc are banned. The only age-appropriate games that are allowed include puzzles and obstacle games.
- Safe surfing option in browser
Explore and activate safe-surfing and parental control options on your browser. For example, Internet Explorer has Content Advisor (under Tools/Internet Options/Content), which filters out language, nudity, sex, and violence on a 0 to 4 scale. Google blocks sites with an explicit sexual material (Go to Preferences/SafeSearch Filtering). AltaVista puts several types of offensive content off-limits with its Family Filter (Go to Settings/Family Filter setup).
- Social media rules and etiquettes
For older children, the threat is more profound. Unlike young kids, older children cannot be coerced, threatened or spied on. They need to be dealt with much more patience and transparent and friendly discussions. I am already bracing up for that stage! Sensitising them to social media etiquettes and family rules around social media updates are important. While they may not fully understand the consequences of revealing personal information online, we must nevertheless make sure our children know that it is wrong to share their name, phone number, e-mail address, password, postal address, school, or picture without your permission or to converse with or agree to meet any online friend.
- Refrain from downloading and/or installing unknown software or applications
As adults, we too are susceptible to being cheated fake software, spam, and applications! Children could be far more vulnerable. It’s important to advise your kids as far as what they should or shouldn’t download. Downloading a new software or application should always be done under parental supervision and on a need basis. Parents may choose to install a site advisor like Web of Trust or Norton Safe Web to know the trustworthiness of a software.
Communication is key when it comes to discussing online safety or for that matter anything that had a long-lasting impact on our children’s lives. Building an atmosphere of openness and trust will go a long way in ensuring the well-being of our children. We must make it easier for our children to come to us with any problems and curiosities. Dodging questions and discussions around pornography, sex, pregnancy, condoms or dating will not make them disappear (oh, how I wish that happened!). It is a good idea to help the child deal with the issues and educate him/him in the right way and at the right time before they get their answers from unreliable sources, usually their peers.
Parenting is not an easy job, and the cost of parental negligence could be high. Being alert is being safe.