The Internet, call it a friend or an enemy, is a vital part of our lives. The fact of the matter is we can’t imagine a life without it! Thanks to the online world, tasks like shopping, homework, entertainment, and staying in touch have become easier.. But then, it’s a dual-edged sword, and it does not discriminate among its users. We are all susceptible to its dangers, and children are even more vulnerable.
World over, kids spend around 6 hours every day online. Apart from browsing and playing games, adolescents spend a lot of time on platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Discord, Omegle, etc. These apps, while providing entertainment, expose the children to a lot of risk and unmoderated content.
It is important that kids are aware of measures that would ensure their safety online and keep them safe from identity thieves, online predators, phishing dangers, etc. Apart from these, over-exposure and unmonitored internet usage can also lead to psychological and mental health issues.
My older daughter wanted her first Instagram account when she was in the eighth grade. But before creating her account, we explored the platform together and discussed what being on IG meant, and how it could be a distraction, a means of connecting with others, a source of unwanted information, and also a personal risk.
And finally, at the end of it, we came up with a set of ground rules for ensuring safety and privacy.
Her profile was set to private mode. Thereby ensuring her profile details, photos, etc were not visible to all, and only those profiles she approved gained access to her account. Having a private account also safeguarded her against spammers and fake accounts.
We explained to her how the concept of “stranger danger” is applicable even in the Online world. Even though she was quite young, I was able to sensitize her and make her aware of the dangers of allowing strangers to access her profile. She understood and agreed that she would never accept requests from unknown people.
One of the basic rules we set up was to never upload pictures of herself. We discussed how morphed photos can be used in nefarious ways and often innocent people become victims of frauds and blackmails.
Private information must remain private
Again, drawing parallels from real life, we talked about the need to maintain privacy and the dangers of personal details getting into the wrong hands. We agreed that she would refrain from divulging information on her residential address, which school she goes to, her parents’ occupation, etc.
We set a strong password for her account. She understood that the password was like a key to her home. And the way, we don’t give our key to anyone, she was to keep the password to herself and not share it with anyone, even her best friends.
Even though we did not set up any parental controls on their devices, we discussed in length about safe content and agreed on time limits. Of course, over the years, they have become more responsible and sensible enough to monitor and set their own usage limits and we rarely fight over it!
The power of the keyboard
We talked about not just how bullying extends to the Online world too, but also about the consequences of actions. She understood the power of the keyboard, and how the content she posts could be misused, misinterpreted, or hurt others. Even today, both my daughters and I follow this and think before posting any content online.
Once she understood what doors and windows she was opening, it was important to show her how to bang the doors shut too. We discussed reporting harmful and offensive content, blocking accounts that made her uncomfortable, or shared unwanted stuff with her.
And to always come to us in case of any untoward incident.
Today, like most teens, the internet is the lifeline for both my daughters. They make, watch, and share reels on IG, call friends, chat, giggle, and gossip on Snapchat; browse google for solving mathematical problems, but never forget the mantras of Online safety.