Helping children stay safe online

Cybersecurity is of great concern to every individual. However, it is of even more concern to children and we need to take all precautionary measures to make sure our children are protected. The adults play an integral role in helping a child make the right choices and protect them from falling into the trap of cyberbullying.

With the pandemic shifting learning to an online platform, it has become hard to restrict browsing time. However, we need to ensure that there are still strict timings for non-educational browsing. We encourage parents to look out for websites that come with “child filters” and ask children to use the internet only for a stipulated time every day. It is encouraged that the parent is physically present in the house during this time. This practice helps children develop a sense of accountability.

Parents need to help children understand that the internet is forever. Although we might “delete” the data posted, the information put out is always available, someone might have taken a screenshot of your post that you deleted, and they can threaten you with it later. To not fall prey to such situations, it is best to address safety rules with children. Children must be told to not share private information on the internet. Private information includes home address, phone numbers, passwords, where their parents work, age, pictures and their whereabouts – anything that is unique and can help identify someone. Including the “why”s of the situation instead of just receiving mere instructions from parents, can help children feel more responsible and be careful. 

Children must also be encouraged to “trust their gut” and look out for “red flag feelings”. A red flag feeling is when something happens on digital media that makes you feel uncomfortable, worried, sad, or anxious. It is important that parents create an environment that enables children to approach them for help without shame or guilt. The parents may also sit with them as they surf and bookmark sites that are appropriate for their use. Doing this helps children from accidentally typing in the wrong website, instead of allowing them to click on the saved bookmarks. When you have younger children playing games on the mobile phone, setting your phone to airplane mode can help avoid them clicking on unwanted advertisements.

Online gaming has become an exciting new way to play and learn as a community. Most gaming platforms encourage multiplayer forums. This is a great way for children to play with their friends, especially during the pandemic. However, this also opens doors for them to interact with others. Children often tend to think that fellow gamers are probably in their age group and they think that it might be acceptable to form groups and solve their game missions. However, it is best to encourage them to stick to their friend group. When playing online games, if they encounter players talking about anything other than the game or asking intrusive questions, that will be a cue for them to “step away” from that game room. 

Cyberbullying has been a concern for several years. Children are at a higher risk of being a target. It is crucial to learn how we can help our kids stay safe from cyberbullying. The awareness we should strive to create with children is to teach them about the online community and who is a part of it from a young age. We need to help them understand that almost anyone and everyone has access to the internet and that they may be from different parts of the world and may belong to various age groups. Doing so helps bring about them understanding that the internet is beyond their screen shining light on the bigger picture. In addition to limiting screen time, being open and approachable is key to creating a safe environment where children can share their concerns with us. Practice open communication with the kids in your life. Doing so not only aids their learning but also helps us learn from them. When our children feel that they can freely share their internet issues with us, we can share personal experiences and other sources about how they can be safer on the internet. Monitor the mental health of your children and notice their behaviour. Remember to always react with compassion and to have open communication with your children.

The road to protecting our children against the boons of the internet is not only long but continuously evolving and changing. Therefore, it is good that we take caution in learning about these and are well-read and equipped with the necessary resources. I have attached some links of articles and videos that can help us better understand cybersecurity. Let us strive to make the internet a healthy place of learning for our children.

Resources:

  1. Cyberbullying: https://www.fosi.org/good-digital-parenting/10-tips-protect-your-child-cyber-bullyingInternet safety: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tR9P4QX82I
  2. Responsible internet usage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkkTN0pQ_Ug
  3. Quick safety tips: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9Htg8V3eik
  4. Child sexual abuse online: https://aarambhindia.org/online-safety/
  5. https://www.commonsense.org/education/articles/23-great-lesson-plans-for-internet-safety

WordSmith: Sharon Samuel, Intern, Helo Program- Bhumi

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