Till the age of 10, a child lives in an idyllic world of his own creation, where only his games and parents are often enough to keep him blissfully happy. But come the tweens and teens, there is a sea-change in his attitude to life. Suddenly the child is besieged with hitherto unknown emotions, ideas and needs. And he also feels this urge to discover new people, places, and interests. And this leads him to explore the world beyond his ken.
Is there a specific kind of child who seeks friendship with strangers online? The answer is NO. The daring and adventurous child looks for excitement and connects with people who hold their interest. The aggressive child is also interested in learning more about other kids and peer sentiments and so visit networking sites. The timid kid, who doesn’t desire any adventure often desire new friends whose wavelength would match their own and who would not bully or demean them. The neglected, lonely child craves for attention and looks for it online.
The cyber world offers such kids the opportunity to meet interesting and exciting people who excite their imagination. And children, including teens, are not always far-sighted or experienced enough to separate the grain from the chaff; the genuine people online from the cyber crooks and predators.
So how can strangers connect to your children online?
- Through chat rooms like Chatroulette, TinyChatnext
- Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, You-Tube, Flickr, FourSquare
- Messaging Apps like WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram,WhisperSnapChat
- Gaming Apps and devices, like PSP, XBOX
- Emails and text messages
Not all strangers are bad, but then how does one determine that in the virtual world where even the identity shared may not be true? With the fear of cyber crooks, hackers and predators present, it is indeed necessary that we know how to keep our children safe when they go online. And NO, banning Internet at home is not the answer because they will simply access it elsewhere.
You can instead:
- Communicate: All the time, anytime, talk to your kids. It can be about anything, but the intention should be to keep communication channels open, share and listen
- Listen: We often do not pay full attention to what kids are saying and answer their series of queries with an absent-minded “Hmm?” This sends the wrong signal that you aren’t interested in knowing about his life and will effectively shut him up.
- Use security software: On all devices-including every laptop, tablet and smartphone in the house. Keep parental controls turned on. Disable webcams and chatrooms. I strongly recommend McAfee Total Protection. Just try it!
- Family time: Express your love for your child all the time, even after you have chastised him. Set aside time for activities that your whole family loves doing. Spend time online with kids, playing games, checking out new devices, watching You-Tube videos of interest.
- Make Social media usage rules: the whole family should abide by them. Prohibit children from sending out friend request to strangers or accepting their friendship without your consent. Restrict social media access time and device. It’s advisable not to allow kids the privilege of accessing internet on their phones till they are mature enough to do the right thing. There should be penalties for breach of rules.
- Monitor: yes you can and should, just the way you do in real life. Be especially vigilant if child changes screen when someone enters the room, wipes browser history, surfs incognito.
- Share and discuss: Everyone should share, say at the dinner table, if they have received a new friend request, inappropriate message, picture etc. and then the whole family should discuss how to handle it. Share stories about predators, ask children if their friends have faced similar issues.
- Say NO: you are the parent and so you have every right to say no when the occasion demands. But do so firmly but lovingly. You are the parent first and their safety is your concern. Children know that, even if they rebel against it.
This is what you should teach your child when they start online socializing: STOP. THINK. CONNECT
Being a parent is a difficult task, and the net has made it a wee bit more complicated. As Cybermum, my advice to you would be, be there for your child and keep an eye on his friends, online activities and change in behaviour. Do this till the child is mature and responsible enough to surf responsibly.