I was recently travelling to Manipur for a workshop for judicial officers, public prosecutors, police officers and practitioners on cyber laws for women and children. While waiting for the connecting flight, I noticed how much the Gen-X child-pacifiers – mobile phones, tablets and laptops – were being used both by the children and their parents (to pacify the children). While children as young as two or three years old were busy playing games on these – mostly by themselves – preteens were busy clicking pictures, instantly morphing them using the latest inbuilt phone technologies and sending them to acquaintances through mobile messaging services. As for the teenagers, most were silently watching videos, looking at social media updates or downloading something.
Though this is not an unusual scene nowadays, what seemed abnormal to me was that these children did not want to read comics or draw in their sketch books or communicate with the people sitting right next to them. To my mind, this new age-behaviour of children definitely called for special attention. It is true you cannot avoid Digital Communication Technology (DCT) in your daily lives. Nor can you restrict your children from using it because, in my opinion, it offers more positive things than negative. However, to make DCT use more positive, make sure you and your child follow these 15 golden rules:
For younger children
Rule 1: Don’t leave your babies and toddlers alone to play with apps. You never know what the apps contain and how your little ones will take it.
Rule 2: Don’t let your little one play with your images or anyone else’s on your phone. She may turn into a habitual ‘offender’ if she equates morphing with playing. Don’t forget, the right to privacy is a fundamental right.
Rule 3: Teach your child the ethics of photography. Impress on him that he cannot take pictures of strangers or anyone without their permission. Your child may end up misusing the photographs on social media, even if unwittingly.
Rule 4: Sensitise your child about ‘bad talk’. ‘Bad talk’ includes bullying, teasing and sexual comments. Once the child can identify such words, it is easier to protect her against bullying-related depression or sexual victimisation.
Rule 5: Make sure your preteen knows that anyone who is using ‘bad talk’, including other children who are bullying him, or any adult who is showing excessive sympathy or anyone sending emojis indicating heart, kissing or pouted lips with text having sexual tones or communicating in a crude manner, must be blocked at once. Stress that it is definitely not safe to be around this person.
Rule 6: Tell your child she should not shy away from discussing online discussions with you or with her older siblings. Explain that you could help in blocking the unwanted element or protecting her profile picture against predators.
Rule 7: Get your teen to search for mutual friends and groups before accepting a stranger as a friend. If there is only one mutual friend, tell him to ask that friend whether he knows the person. Often, the friend may be completely oblivious of the disguised presence of hackers and impersonators on his friends’ list.
Rule 8: Ask your teen to look at pictures and photo albums in the profile of the person who wants to be her friend. Images of nude/semi nude women and men, celebrities in revealing dresses could indicate that this person is a pervert.
Rule 9: Is your teenager planning to join a social media based group? Impress on him that it’s not necessary to reply to all the comments or obey all the commands that are given. Teach him to be rational and explain that not all ‘do share’ commands bring good luck. Some may also challenge his mental strength like the Blue Whale, an online game in which the player is given 50 bizarre tasks, the last of which is to commit suicide. Stress that he wins when he ignores such challenges and leaves such groups.
Rule 10: Is your teen sharing her photos with friends? Make sure she only shares photos in which she is properly dressed. Photos in swim suits, bikinis or skimpy clothes can make her fall a prey to sexual predators.
Rule 11: Let us say your teen suddenly discovers one of your friends sending nonsense texts to him. Impress on him that he should alert you. That friend’s profile may have been hacked by a predator who is trying to reach out to teenagers for unethical gains.
Rule 12: Tell your child that if she notices any changes in the attitude of a friend, or sees her watching too much violence or nudity in the phone, she should alert you and her friend’s parents. The friend might have become a ‘forced consumer’ of bad stuff from bad people of the Internet world.
Rule 13: Make sure your child doesn’t use a second hand SIM card, even if he gets it for free. It might have been used for criminal activities.
Rule 14: If your teen loves online shopping, ensure that you or your spouse is with her when she visits these sites. Online shopping can turn disastrous if bank details are shared on unsecured sites.
Rule 15: Tell your teenager he should not let strangers know where you are planning to go during the holidays. He can always upload his travelogue once he returns!
Remember, prevention is always better than cure. So, follow these rules and stay safe in this wonderful digital communication era!
Dr Debarati Halder is the Honorary Managing Director of the Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling (www.cybervictims.org). She is also working as Professor & Head of the Department of Research, Unitedworld School of Law, Karnavati University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat. She can be reached at email@example.com.