Raising children in the 21st century has proved to be a complicated and complex daily challenge that parents from around the world are currently facing. Not only do we, as parents, strive to work on teaching our children good manners, knowing right from wrong, taking the right decisions and building their confidence (the list can go on and on…), we should also make them aware of life’s dangers without having them panic and live in fear. As technology advanced and modernization swept into our daily lives, parents made their children attentive to the danger of talking to strangers.
In the internet era, however, there is a new concern, one which we cannot control as it all occurs in the dark chatting rooms, gaming sites and social networks. Online communication, like any other technological progress, has its advantages and of course its disadvantages. In fact, it all depends on how we utilize it, what we post on it and who we share it with. We are all guilty consumers of technology and the internet; I can’t even imagine how I could be running my errands, staying in touch with my loved ones, and sharing my parenting journey with all of you without online communication.
However, some heart breaking stories have been surfacing in Europe and the United States of America, for instance, as many teenagers are being subjected to horrible situations. These youngsters are meeting dangerous strangers online via social media, gaming sites or chat rooms, and they are developing close ‘online’ relationships with them. Without knowing what they are getting themselves into, teenagers are being slowly lured into trusting paedophiles and other frauds who pretend to be kind, honest and special cyber ‘friends’. Unfortunately, some of these stories have a tragic ending…
Even though such stories are mortifying, we should not engulf our children and keep them shielded in safety containers. However, it is our duty, as parents, to equip our youngsters with the knowledge and awareness they need to face our modern world. Making our children aware of the advantages of using the internet wisely takes time and a lot of collaborative talking. A good start will be by adopting the way we spread awareness amongst our children regarding the strangers in real life to the strangers they might be exposed to online. We also need to emphasize that the internet does not forget, and might be even described as an online tattoo that we can never get rid of.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) listed a few ways that might help us enjoy the internet along with our children and keep them safe. (https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk) They talked about many important points which I have summarized as the following:
CHILDREN MUST BE AWARE OF INTERNET SECURITY:
If we do not know how to stay in control of our posts, we never know where and with whom our pictures might end up with. If a child owns a Facebook account for instance, we as parents have to familiarize them with the protection and privacy settings so that their pictures can be under their control and only seen by their friends. We can also recommend that they only add people they have met in real life whom they can trust with their information.
If parents are not aware about such privacy setting, it is highly recommended that they familiarize themselves first and stay up to date with technology. For example, just a few weeks ago, a friend of mine taught me how to keep my What’s App image under control.
The internet is a new and recent discovery of the decade, and there is a new thing to learn every day. We have to be aware of its privacy settings in order to protect ourselves and our children.
TAKE A TRUSTED ADULT:
If our children want to meet the online “friend”, a trusted adult, must accompany them. Who knows what type of person that stranger is?
With smart phones all over the place and with everyone using it, friends can easily take pictures of a certain child and use it on the internet. It is true that it is very difficult to control such an act, but it can be avoided if our children know whom to hang out with and what to consent. If the child has been subjected to cyber bullying the following steps help in controlling the situation;
- Talk to the child about the incident and show your support.
- Report the incident to the network as they can easily block that person and remove any unwanted photos or videos.
- If the incident happened in school, then the administration should be aware of it and they can help in dealing with the situation.
However, some children and especially teenagers would not share such a situation with their parents for a couple of reasons. First, if the child opened a social media account behind his or her parents’ back and was exposed to cyber bullying, they would refrain from seeking parental help since they would be afraid of getting in more trouble. Second, some teenagers have claimed that their parents will not understand the situation they are in and prefer to keep it to themselves. Both of these cases are serious and dangerous for the child’s mental and physical wellbeing. Therefore, having an open communication between children and their parents is key in preventing such instances from taking place.
RESTRICT THE SITES THAT CHILDREN CAN USE:
Even if we restrict some main sites to protect our children from being subjected to certain images that might upset them, we should continue talking openly to them about the cyber world. The minute children feel that it is not allowed to do something they would want to explore it on their own.
THINK BEFORE YOU SHARE:
Once the information is shared on the internet we never know where the picture ends. In fact we are leaving digital footprints which we cannot control anymore. That is why it is essential we think before we post anything online.
For instance, checking in to places on Facebook informs the world the child’s exact location which might be seen by dangerous strangers as an opportunity to meet the child in real life and charm them there. Mind you that at this point, those dangerous people know the name of the child, how they look like and what they are interested in which will make it an easy task.
BE INVOLVED IN YOUR CHILDREN’S GAME PLAYING:
Even if it seems difficult for us, but we need to familiarize ourselves with the types of online games our children play, and we can ask if we could join them. It is easier if we get into that at an early stage when they still accept and want us to participate. Later on, they will be able to enjoy having fun without becoming victims of the internet.
When we look at posts on any social network, we know what individuals are up to, where they are going, and how they spend their time. We can even tell how and where things are placed in their homes. For example, I have seen many bedrooms of people whom I haven’t met in person simply because a friend of mine liked the post of her friend’s friend and so on and so forth! This leaves me wondering if this is normal! If everybody is doing it, then is it the appropriate alternative? What is the point of having people know where we are heading or what we are doing? Do we no longer respect personal privacy? And most importantly why are we over exposing ourselves to people who might turn out to be wicked and mean us harm?
I am not here to criticize anyone or to play the role of the sage on the stage as I do respect people’s choices and decisions, and what they do is none of my business. I am also not stating that we need to abandon social networking and online gaming because it has some great advantages. However, it is worthy to acquire lessons from other people’s mistakes and be pioneers ourselves in the choices we take in our daily lives.
In my opinion, social networking in the Middle East is boosting curiosity, jealousy, and competition among its participants. Many are the times when I hear people acknowledging how much stress and peer pressure they are enduring because they want to do better than others who might have bought a new car, or held a fabulous party, or traveled to a fantastic island and of course posted every detail online. Worst of all is that we are showing our kids that it is acceptable to post personal moments, but when they become teenagers and want to post something which we believe is inappropriate, we start setting our strict rules. There are countless privacy options which can be utilized that help us limit the exposure of our lives online. Let us set the example first and have them realize the importance of using the internet wisely.
We are still considered to be lucky as we are living in a safe country and surfing the net can be somehow controlled. However, things move fast and what people and children are facing in the west might soon be knocking at our doors. Again, I am not saying that we need to freak out, but we need to spread awareness to our children and learn how to use the internet without subjecting them to any danger or bullying.
The era of the internet is the new generation’s lifestyle. We cannot live without it, but we can manage it in a way which suits us best by being involved with our children’s online activities. That is why we should attain the appropriate choices that we consider as the safest for our children.
In a nutshell, as taken from the CEOP website, here are some recommendations for parents:
- “Talk to your child about what they’re up to online. Be a part of their online life; involve the whole family and show an interest. Find out what sites they visit and what they love about them, if they know you understand they are more likely to come to you if they have any problems.
- Watch Thinkuknow films and cartoons with your child. The Thinkuknow sitehas films, games and advice for children from five all the way to 16.
- Encourage your child to go online and explore! There is a wealth of age-appropriate sites online for your children. Encourage them to use sites which are fun, educational and that will help them to develop online skills.
- Keep up-to-date with your child’s development online. Children grow up fast and they will be growing in confidence and learning new skills daily. It’s important that as your child learns more, so do you.
- Set boundaries in the online world just as you would in the real world. Think about what they might see, what they share, who they talk to and how long they spend online. It is important to discuss boundaries at a young age to develop the tools and skills children need to enjoy their time online.
- Keep all equipment that connects to the internet in a family space. For children of this age, it is important to keep internet use in family areas so you can see the sites your child is using and be there for them if they stumble across something they don’t want to see.
- Know what connects to the internet and how. Nowadays even the TV connects to the internet. Make sure you’re aware of which devices that your child uses connect to the internet, such as their phone or games console. Also, find out how they are accessing the internet – is it your connection, or a neighbour’s wifi? This will affect whether the safety setting you set are being applied.
- Use parental controls on devices that link to the internet, such as the TV, laptops, computers, games consoles and mobile phones. Parental controls are not just about locking and blocking, they are a tool to help you set appropriate boundaries as your child grows and develops. They are not the answer to your child’s online safety, but they are a good start and they are not as difficult to install as you might think. Service providers are working hard to make them simple, effective and user friendly. Find your service provider and learn how to set your controls.”