The Ramayana was one book that influenced me a lot in my childhood. I liked the lovely, winding storyline that conjured up thrilling images in my mind. Like the part about Lakshman drawing a rekha (line) which Sita was not to cross for her own safety. It sent delicious tingling sensation down my spine whenever I came to it for I knew rules would get broken and dangers would follow. I would boss over my kid sister by drawing a Lakshman rekha around her that she was to cross at her own peril. She, timid thing, stayed within those limits fearing the unknown.
This childhood trick was brought to my mind when someone asked me if it were possible to fix limits for kids when they surfed. Limits that parents would be sure they would adhere to? I thought instantly of my Lakshman Rekha and the clear-cut limits and penalties it involved. And I said, “Why not? It’s our duty as parents to set limits for kids for their own safety, whether they resent it or not.”
See, kids will resent even the minisculest of restrictions imposed for they are free birds at heart. But that does not mean you have to give them a free reign, for they are also naive, guileless and trusting. And most important, they do not know how crooked and complicated the world can be. But you know that right? You are the best person to guide them- after all you have their best interest in your heart. And you know what? Kids know it and accept your authority, albeit grudgingly.
However, there is a process to it. What is out of bounds for a 10-year old is definitely not so for a 14-year old. Then again, some kids are more mature and responsible at a younger age compared to their peers and hence can be allowed more leeway. Parents who are out the whole day or leave kids with grandparents/care takers who are not technologically savvy have to be more careful than those who are around to monitor the kids on the net. So the gist is that there must be some general rules but parents must handle each kid differently according to age, behaviour and maturity levels.
Remember to clarify that every “allowed” is inevitably tied to “responsibility” and “penalty on breach of rule”. This must be made clear at the very beginning and strictly enforced. Like how schools send back kids who are habitually late to teach them a lesson in punctuality, you will also award punishments like ‘no Internet for a week’ if kids breach the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ you’ve drawn.
Some general rules include:
- Kids can access the net only from the desktop kept at a prominently visible place
- The monitor must face the room always, not the wall
- They should access the net only during allotted hours
- They should not go to friends’ house to access their networks
- Socialising should be restricted to weekends and that too limited only to real life friends and relatives
- They can’t use foul language and inappropriate signs
- They should be well-behaved on the net and not share any private information of the family or secrets shared with them by their friends
- They will never reply to strangers or use the webcam to chat without a parent present
- They will report to you any untoward incidents, indecent behaviour or language immediately
You can meanwhile install a security software like McAfee Family Protection that allows you to set timings and choose websites for every child in the house. Each user will individually log in and the software will monitor their activities and send you remote reports.
So parents, you are to be friends, confidants, guides, police and lawgiver all rolled into one…You do it all the time in real life, so why not in the virtual one too?