Children caught in the web

No parent would ever leave his child in a dangerous place. Yet many of us are doing so without even realising it


No parent would ever leave his child in a dangerous place. Yet many of us are doing so without even realising it. How many kids have access to a mobile device, a laptop or a computer from a tender age, through which they can access the Internet? Most probably the absolute majority.

Some people do not realise that while the Internet can be an incredible tool for learning, it has its dark side as well. The darkest part of the web is called the “dark web”.  It is like the wild west of the Internet where no laws exist, where law enforces struggle and where criminals have a free reign. Drugs, arms and even humans get traded on this part of the web. Luckily for us, to access this area, one requires a particular browser, so it tends to be way beyond the reach of our children.

However, this does not mean that our online world is safe. The following are some examples of the most common dangers found online.

1. Online predators roam the Internet freely and are always on the lookout for young preys.  They study their targets patiently and then make their move. To ensure that they are successful, some of them steal online identities similar to the wolf dressed up as a sheep.

Thus, it’s essential to teach our kids not to speak with strangers and if in doubt, seek the help of an adult. Personal information should not be shared online. Innocuous details, such as the name of a pet, can be used as a hook to start a conversation. If the predator is planning to steal from a household, he will start a conversation to elicit information such as habits, timetables, etc. In some cases, children get pressured to meet their predator in real life, and the consequences of such actions are sometimes tragic.

2. Private does not necessarily mean safe. We have seen many cases where people shared personal photos or videos in private chats, and they end up on the Internet. Children should keep in mind that privacy is equal to control. If one gives it away, he is also giving away the control. Once it is out there, it is impossible to get it back or even delete it.

Before posting anything, children should ask themselves whether what they’re going to share can be shared in the school billboard. If it isn’t, then most probably it is not a good idea to share it.

3. Social media tend to have adverse effects on children. These sites are addictive by design. The colours, layout and the content used is optimised to get you to return to the site. This addiction might interfere with the child’s school work and eventually affect his grades. They also act as a barrier to going outside and having real-life interactions. Finally, some of the content might be inappropriate, which would lead to anxiety, depression and fatigue.

Parents should delay social media access as much as possible. When the kids are allowed to access it, the parents should retain a copy of all the social media passwords so that they can monitor what’s happening online and guide their children accordingly.

4.  Overusing technology is unhealthy. Some children use their phone, console and their other devices all the time. They find it hard to stop, complain vociferously and avoid social encounters.

To counteract this, parents should remind their children that screentime is not a child’s right but a privilege. Simple rules can be enacted, such as:

  • a. The home should have tech-free zones which everyone respects.
  • b. Phones are not welcome during meal times.
  • c. During specific times throughout the day and around bedtime, there should be a tech blackout.

5. Following your child online does not mean that you know what he’s doing. Children these days are very crafty. Some of them create fake profiles to share with their parents and other accounts to share with their friends.

Of course, it is not easy to monitor the kids. The best solution is to have an open channel of communication with the children. Discuss what is acceptable and what isn’t. Also, it is essential to show interest in what they are doing. In so doing, it would be easier to gain their trust, and they would be willing to turn to you if they have a problem. No matter what we do and how much we try, children will commit errors of judgement. In those cases, never chastise the child online, but discuss the situation with the child using a civilised conversation. Remember that every fall is an opportunity to rise and learn from it.

6. Fake news and false marketing are rampant. The web is full of questionable content, and people are exposed to it daily. Because of this, we have to be very careful about what to believe. It is always a good idea to check the source of information, whether it is reliable and if necessary, double-check the facts against multiple sources.

The best way to help children is to educate them and explain how to spot fake posts. Advise them never to click or fill any form, and if they need to, they should ask an adult first. The GPS (localisation) on their phone should be off to prevent them from getting targeted advertisement.

7. Online bullying is enormous and can have some severe consequences such as self-harm or even suicide. Online abuse is rather easy, and one can do it from any device. On the other hand, children’s identity and self-esteem are very fragile.

The best way to tackle this issue is to speak with the child and monitor any changes in their behaviour. Explain to them that they have to report any inappropriate content and that you are there to support them all the way.

Of course, it is impossible to monitor everything which they’re doing online. But leaving the child’s screen time completely unmonitored is a recipe for disaster. The parent’s role is to protect their child, and the online world is no different. They have to handhold their children until they are ready to handle social media on their own. Technology is a privilege that parents shouldn’t let their kids abuse, and if they do so, they can ensure that one day, their children will become responsible adults in an online world.

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