Get I T Safe By Vidya Reddy, Tulir

Nobody ever tells you that it is easy being a parent. You simply figure it out as you go along, and just when you think you have a handle on it, the rules change. Case in point? ICT (Information Communication Technologies). They have become such an integral part of our daily lives, we often stop and wonder how we managed life earlier without any of the gizmos that keep us connected.

But they are here to stay and it would be a disadvantage to our children if we do not let them explore the wonders the new technologies offer. But like with all good things there is a downside as well.

Welcome to the new world of parenting online! It’s your newest challenge. But don’t worry, it’s not as hard as you think, and it’s well worth the effort to get savvy about it. Especially considering India – even with a low internet penetration – is now among the top three countries worldwide in terms of number of Internet users. And as for mobile phones, we seem to be setting records for new connections every month, only for it to be broken a month later.

As is true with any community, there are risks and potential dangers our children will encounter in cyberspace. But what do you do when your nine -year-old knows more than you do about the gadgets and the internet? And since our children know more than we do about it, we wonder and worry about ways to teach them to manage unpleasant situations they may encounter online. But then again, how do we ensure our child’s safety when we don’t even understand the risks?  Consider this line from a chat – Hi!  U Hv a Gr8 soh. ROFL! BRb POS – which may leave many  parents scratching their heads.  Any teenager familiar with “chatspeak”  will  however take  one look  at the cryptic collection of letters and, without a moments hesitation, translate it as  “ Hi! You have a great sense of humor. Rolling on the floor laughing. Will be right back. Parents over shoulder!!!”

It is increasingly becoming apparent that children and young people using the internet are potential targets for child sex abusers, leading to dangerous situations; are exposed to age-inappropriate, illegal, and harmful material, such as images of child sexual abuse (child pornography), pornography and spam; are subject to harassment, intimidation, and cyber-bullying; and are prone to being tricked into downloading viruses and spyware.

There is no need to panic – these dangers can be managed using the same old warnings we’ve always used to try and ensure our children’s safety. We just need to translate them into cyberspace context. There are enough and more websites which promote and provide information on online safety, both for parents and children. Just type in the key words into any search engine and pages of links tumble out.

While http://www.microsoft.com/protect/family/default.aspx and https://onlinefamily.norton.com/familysafety/loginStart.fs?inid=us_2010June_NOF are  useful sites to visit for parents, www.WiredKids.org, www.thinkuknow.co.uk, www.stopcyberbullying.org are a few worth mentioning for children to learn how to manage privacy, social networking, netiquette (cyber-etiquette) and responsible surfing.

There are many technological tools available to help parents keep their children safe online, which usually come bundled with the OS. (And if you did not know what that stood for, maybe this is the time for you to get tech savvy!!!) Some even help regulate how much time a child spends playing computer games, or prevent their accessing the Internet during certain preset times. Blocking, Filtering, Outgoing Filtering, Monitoring and Tracking software are all available, besides a host of other options.

Parents have to remember, though, that these tools are not cyber- protectors. They are just like other safety tools, seatbelts or child safety caps. While you have to teach your children to be aware and careful in cyberspace and even if you use every technology protection available, unless your children know what to expect and how to react when they run into something undesirable online, they are at risk. These tools are not a substitute for good parenting.  In other words, set clear internet rules.

For instance, imagine your child has just learnt to cycle. First of all you don’t let them practise on a busy road and you don’t just leave them to practise without supervision and without adequate information to safeguard themselves from spills and crashes. In the same way parents just need to make sure the computer is placed in a common family space and be careful about allowing children the use of high-end mobile phones. Would you ever allow a teenager who is learning driving, the use of your luxury sedan? Sit next to the kids when they are online for some of the time and start learning about what they are doing.  The kids will probably be better and faster at learning how to get to information and to do things, but it is the parent who will have to provide the appropriate guidance to the child who is “still in training”, even on the internet.  Safety can be learned but it needs to be hands-on before it will begin to sink in.  Besides spending time with your child, what better way than to sit next to your child and learn together?.

And with children’s and young people‘s constant quest to keep pace with the continually and rapidly evolving changes in technology, it would be well advised to keep abreast of what children and young people are up to in the time tested, old-fashioned way parenting has relied on over the years and generations – being involved in their lives. Listening and not just hearing them, providing for a congenial setting and relationship which will allow your child to always know that you are there for them without berating or judging them are significant factors in ensuring your child’s experience with the new technologies is enjoyable. Simple attributes which technology can never compete against!

Other websites to click on are –

www.netsmartz.org

www.childnet-int.org

www.chatdanger.com

http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/

www.kidsmart.org.uk

http://www.protectkids.com/

www.netbullies.com
http://www.wildwebwoods.org/popup.php?lang=en

http://www.fbi.gov/publications/pguide/pguidee.htm

Adapted from an article  previously published as part of Project Get IT Safe,  a Tulir – CPHCSA   initiative supported by the FCO, British High Commission.

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