The Internet has completely transformed our world and is definitely here to stay. We can no longer imagine life without this fascinating tool at our fingertips, which opens so many doors for us at the click of a button. Whether it is movies, games, e-learning, e-business, social media – there is something there to entice everyone – young children included. We all know that young people are the most active users of the Internet and are most up to date with current trends in the virtual world. This makes the world wide web a wonderful place – but it can be very dangerous as well! Sadly, it is this group who are the most vulnerable target for cyber criminals with malicious intent.
A Unicef study suggests that 80% of all young people using the Internet are at risk of being abused, bullied or taken advantage of. Therefore, the dangers of the online world are a reality that cannot be ignored, especially as children are more likely to disregard all safety precautions whilst using the Internet. For many parents, the easiest solution to this problem is to eliminate the root cause of the threat by forbidding their children from going online. But does blocking the use of technology really serve any purpose? On the contrary, it could prove counter-productive as it may encourage children to use the Internet without the knowledge and supervision of adults.
A better way to tackle the situation is to discuss the potential dangers of the Internet with our children and inculcate safe online practices from a very young age. It is important to keep them abreast with the wonders of technology and use it to gain knowledge, for healthy interaction, entertainment, and to make life more convenient. It is not the technology in itself that is threatening, it is the naivety and lack of maturity of the users. Therefore, the onus lies on parents and educational institutions to be proactive in observing their children’s online behaviour and habits – while also engaging in regular ongoing conversations about the dos and don’ts of online etiquette.
Talking to your children about online safety
Explain to your child, in a manner appropriate for their age, how the Internet is a world in itself and that they need to be careful about what they reveal about themselves or their family. Discuss the potential dangers of the cyber world in a way that is easy for them to relate to.
Begin the conversation when the child is young
Discuss the topic as early as possible – starting at the time of the child’s very first associations with the Internet is vital for highlighting the dangers they could be exposed to. Explain the importance of passwords, of being discreet, and encourage them to be as wary of strangers online as in the real world. This helps to reinforce what is and is not acceptable, and makes healthy practices second nature for them.
As it is so easy to get carried away and lose track of time while using the Internet, it is advisable to restrict online time to an hour or two every day, depending on the age of the child. This is important because parents can then actively supervise their child’s online activities and ensure their child does not get addicted. This helps emphasise the fact that whilst you are open to your children using the Internet, it cannot become a substitute for the real world.
Why conversations have a greater impact than blocking our children from the Internet
Denying children access to the Internet to ‘protect’ them is self-defeating. It can lead to them being more curious and sneaky in their access, with no regard for any kind of safety. It may make them rebellious and uninformed, rather than cautious and aware. And the chances of them misusing any technology they are provided with could increase. Instead, talking to them will help them feel you respect their choices and trust them to make good decisions. This will create a healthy and open relationship between you.
As with all technology, it is not the Internet that is good or bad, rather the way we use it that determines how it impacts our lives. Frank, forthright and proactive effort from adults will make a lasting impression on their minds about the importance of staying safe in the virtual world.
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