By Funmi Obisesan
Kids as young as three have a tablet or an iPad these days. Our tweens and teenagers especially love to use the internet on their smartphones, tablets and iPads at the slightest opportunity.
The problem though is that as parents we worry about who is talking to them. Could our kids naively have been exposing themselves to stalking? Are they being bullied? Are they being lured into sending photographs of their private-parts to potential paedophiles online? Will our kids grow up to be adults that cannot engage in normal conversation in a social environment?
The rate at which the online world is evolving per second places a lot of responsibilities on parents. It is therefore important that parents make themselves reasonably savvy with the basics of online safety. This way they can be aware of the possible dangers of the online world and make efforts to keep ahead of the game to protect their kids from becoming victims of such.
As parents, our responsibilities do not stop at buying our kids these gadgets to make them happy. More importantly, it is our responsibility as parents to ensure that our kids understand the basics of online safety which can protect them from various dangers that they may be exposed to.
Also Read: School Safety / Security
As a parent you have to be conversant with the apps that have features that can let others: invite your kids to take part in an online challenge, invite your kid into private forum chat, monitor the location of your kids; or that your kids can use to send an instant text message that auto-deletes itself upon delivery and that lets your kid send photos that will auto-delete itself upon delivery.
From the use of the internet, our kids can be exposed to: cyberbullies, cyber-stalkers, sex-texting, trolls, violent contents, adult-rated contents, bad-grooming and extortion. These are some of the dangers that exist; that your kids may be exposed to as they use the internet and you may not even have the slightest idea that such is happening. These exposures have a powerful influence on our kids and how they may perceive the understanding of acceptable behaviour.
Many kids have committed suicide because of online exposure and its consequences. Many have totally lost their confidence and may not recover. Many have been groomed into drugs, prostitution or terrorism through the online world.
I can assure you that all the time a parent commits into ensuring the safety of their kids online is worth it. Removing your kids from the online world is not the solution. Preparing them to handle the online world is, same as educating them to report any ugly incidence to you or the police.
Here are a few tips that may help:
- Create a communication platform with your kids
Often some kids fear their parents so much that they cannot open up about their worries to them. You will be making your kids a lot safer when they are assured that they are free to come to you on whatever that may be happening to them. Trust is the first step in the right direction to this. As a parent, it is very important that your body language is not acting in contrast to what you may be discussing with your kids. For example, it will be conflicting to be reassuring your kids to open up to you on anything while you are visibly angry and shouting at the top of your voice when they do. Please maintain a calm body language and you will be able to earn your kid’s trust.
Many kids have been lured into sharing their intimate photos with people who may then use it to blackmail and extort them or post such on the social media. This can cause a lot of psychological trauma to your kids and dealing with this alone can be too overwhelming for them, resulting into some instances of suicide. Communicate with your kids that they should never share such information of themselves and should this happen they can share this incident with you. In some other instances, some online friends or school-mates may send them unsolicited intimate photos. You need to mentally prepare your kids to be able to handle this and share such situations with you so that appropriate actions can be taken on this by you.
- Parental control apps
There are a variety of apps that can impose parental controls on your child’s device. They have several handy features like monitoring of your kids’ messages, ability to remotely block some sites that you consider inappropriate, filter content, limit online time, set private settings on your kids’ gadgets, and approve/disapprove app before they can be downloaded on your kids’ devices.
- Teach your kids to be wary of strangers, no matter how nice these strangers may present themselves.
A very common occurrence, especially with game consoles, is that kids are exposed to receiving messages from other gamers remotely. Some of the messages could be explicit and inappropriate for your kid’s age. That you can hear your kid giggling does not necessarily confirm that they are happy and safe online. Some gaming has a chat room where other kids that also have the game can connect with your kid and may upset your kids by the things they say or make them do. Often it has been seen where adults (paedophiles or con artists) pretend to be kids and join in the chat room to lure or groom the kids. Your kids should be safe from this if you have taught them about the dangers of talking to strangers in addition to other suggestions in this article.
- Know your kid’s friends
It is very important to know the other kids that your kids interact with online and to discuss with your kid the reason why any unknown person to you will have to be deleted. It is also a very good idea that your kid understands that they need to tell you if they ever want to go to meet an online friend that they might have made and discussed if they can or cannot meet this online friend. You need to be able to keep an eye out for any suspicious signs from your kid as these signs will be pointers to you to know if your child is going through any bullying. Some of the signs could be looking dirty, withdrawn and so on. You may need to take such a kid to see a counsellor or the therapist depending on what might have happened. Do not be ashamed to involve the police where necessary.
*Funmi Obisesan TechIOSH SIIRSM MSM is a safety professional, vlogger and the author of “General Health and Safety, A-Z in the African Perspectives”. She can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org