When children go online

 thehindu.com  08/01/2020 15:16:25 

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced educational institutions to embrace digital solutions. For children, instruction and socialisation at school have been replaced with online classes and interactions. While the pace at which our educational institutions have been able to adapt to these changes is commendable, the increased engagement of children online is exposing them to various social networking tools and virtual content that are not designed for them. Both international and national organisations such as UNICEF and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) have warned of a heightened risk to child safety in association with increased screen time.

Children, and even the adults entrusted with protecting them, do not always have the knowledge and skills to ensure online safety. To better cope with the dangers of unsuitable content and online predators, parents and caregivers need to be aware of the common types of online risks that endanger children. The first of these is content risk which comes with exposure to inappropriate online content such as pornography or violent and disturbing videos. The next is contact risk. Here, children come in direct communication with an online predator. Typically, such encounters involve strangers using fake identities on social networking platforms to pursue fraudulent or harmful activities, a practice more commonly known as catfishing. The third one is conduct risk, which is often spurred on by digital anonymity and the dehumanisation that accompanies virtual interactions. Here, children may harm others by straying from civil conduct and engaging in cyberbullying or impersonation, or they may risk harm to themselves by creating inappropriate content.

Negative experiences

UNICEFs recent report "Growing up in a connected world" suggests that if we are to tackle negative online experiences effectively, more attention should be paid to "...what children do online, the content they encounter, and their life environment and support networks..." rather than the amount of time children spend online. There are two broad areas that parents and caregivers can focus on in order to follow through on this suggestion.

The first area relates to devices children use to access the Internet. GCFGlobal, a programme initiated by Goodwill Community Foundation, suggests that computers that children access should be kept in a common area at home. This will dissuade children from engaging in activities they have been cautioned against. Furthermore, children are at risk when they access parents phones or laptops where they may encounter content that is unsuitable for them or when they access the Internet at a friends home whose parents have no oversight over their childs behaviour. GCFGlobal also recommends using parental controls and installing anti-virus software to minimise user encounters with undesirable websites or apps.

The second area of focus relates to how parents communicate with their children in order to promote online safety. While talking to ones child may seem like common sense, according to a global survey conducted by the anti-virus provider AVG, only 43% of those surveyed regularly communicate with their children about their online behaviour.

There are two main goals that parents are trying to achieve through communication. One is to empower children to make good decisions while surfing the web. This includes making children aware of the dangers involved, educating children on basic skills needed to navigate the internet safely, and setting standards for children around these dangers. The other goal is to foster a safe and supportive environment by encouraging children to ask questions and talk freely about their online activities. This also allows parents to provide timely guidance without resorting to excessive monitoring. When children open up about difficult topics, it is important to remain calm and reassure them of parental support, so that ones response does not exacerbate the negative feelings of shame and guilt children may already be experiencing. Beyond online risks, the strict containment measures have also led to a heightened risk of unreported child abuse at home. Therefore, it is imperative that schools play an active role in the support network available to children by facilitating school counselling services online.

anjuvimalassery@gmail.com

*Our Digital Subscription plans do not currently include the e-paper ,crossword, iPhone, iPad mobile applications and print. Our plans enhance your reading experience.

Dear reader,

We have been keeping you up-to-date with information on the developments in India and the world that have a bearing on our health and wellbeing, our lives and livelihoods, during these difficult times. To enable wide dissemination of news that is in public interest, we have increased the number of articles that can be read free, and extended free trial periods. However, we have a request for those who can afford to subscribe: please do. As we fight disinformation and misinformation, and keep apace with the happenings, we need to commit greater resources to news gathering operations. We promise to deliver quality journalism that stays away from vested interest and political propaganda.

Support Quality Journalism

Dear subscriber,

Thank you!

Your support for our journalism is invaluable. Its a support for truth and fairness in journalism. It has helped us keep apace with events and happenings.

The Hindu has always stood for journalism that is in the public interest. At this difficult time, it becomes even more important that we have access to information that has a bearing on our health and well-being, our lives, and livelihoods. As a subscriber, you are not only a beneficiary of our work but also its enabler.

We also reiterate here the promise that our team of reporters, copy editors, fact-checkers, designers, and photographers will deliver quality journalism that stays away from vested interest and political propaganda.

Suresh Nambath

« Go back