The virtual world holds greater fascination for children than the real one. There are so many ways and means to connect these days that it doesn’t matter if they are able to meet their friends for some play time in the evenings. The smartphone and tablet PC like iPad and Galaxy Tab have brought the world at their finger tips literally. All they need is to tap on the required icons on the screen and they are instantly connected to their social network, wherever their friends maybe.
“I think it’s good in a way, you know,” said my sister, a mother of a preteen, one day. “The children are so busy and live so far-off from their friends. School friends are not your neighbourhood friends. So how else can they keep in touch? Also look how my daughter is able to keep in touch with all her relatives and recognise them. Frankly, she knows more about our entire brood of cousins than we ever did. It helps me too. I can keep a tab on her friends and observe what kind of conversations they have. Plus she doesn’t nag me about being bored on holidays.”
Yes, agreed. Social networking is fun and absorbing and perhaps helps to strengthen relations. But that’s AS LONG AS its limited to KNOWN friends and family. But there are, as usual, some negatives too. Some of these were brought up during my recent trip to Bengaluru to address parents and teachers at Spellstar 2012.
Let’s talk about some of the concerns from the parent community that attended this event and provide some simple solutions to these problems:
The rising addiction to social networking sites like Facebook
Children will follow their peer, their idols and movie and TV shows. There is a parallel world- the cyber world. It’s powerful, it’s captivating and everyone wants to be a part of it. Relationships and contracts are forged online. So, yes children will want to be a part of this modern phenomenon too. But you can definitely limit time and access to sites by age. Emphasize that this is a privilege they are being allowed and that they must respect the rules you have laid down. Smartly limit online time by introducing them to sports and hobbies
Preteens forging their age to join some of these sites
I do not support children lying to achieve something, nor the silent support of parents who turn a blind eye to this issue. Tell them to wait for their turn to join Facebook legally
Teach kids to immediately report to you if they find anyone using inappropriate words or posting obscene comments or pictures/videos on any online site. They must not be provoked by such content nor start an argument online, but seek guidance from an elder they trust. To prevent your own children from doing so, give them value education from an early age and practice good manners yourself, all the time.
Obscenity and profanity used on social networking sites
Kids and even grown-ups have started treating their blogging sites and Facebook entries like their private diaries. They post their innermost feelings, without caring who gets to view the same. They also get a sense of popularity based on the ‘responses’ and ‘likes’ their post receives. As a result, they turn to their Walls when they are upset, instead of seeking counsel from a trusted friend or relative. Parents unfortunately are the last to know. So it’s advisable they befriend their kids on social networking sites and monitor their posts without proving to be an embarrassment to the kids.
The rising rate of suicide note basis postings on Facebook
This is a rising danger. Just like you are worried about strangers trying to befriend your child or stalking her when your kid steps out alone, be wary of strangers doing the same online. Ensure that the privacy settings on all social networking sites are at maximum. Children should not be allowed to befriend people they don’t know well or reply to messages from strangers/ acquaintances
Incidents of cyber bullying and stalking on social networking sites
While discussing the net habits of the Indian children in particular, I used the findings of the McAfee-Synovate study to point out that quite a few kids have shared personal details online and many of them don’t tell their parents everything they read or see on the net. You need to be watchful of your child’s behaviour and keep communication channels open. They ought to feel free to bring all their worries to you without embarrassment.
How to keep kids safe on social networking sites
I’d say, this is a two-pronged approach. Install the best possible family security software on all internet-enabled gadgets. I would recommend the McAfee Family Protection or the McAfee Total Protection from personal experience. The software offers unprecedented support to monitor kids online. It provides parental controls to safeguard kids against social networking risks, cyber bullying, and other online threats. So kids are happy and safe and parents feel a lessening in their burden of kid-worries
So- protection, communication, education and vigilance are the keys to keeping your children safe online.