Technology has progressed leaps and bounds over the past decade, with the Internet casting a magical spell in our lives. More than adults, it is Gen Z, which is embracing this change gleefully. Every other child has an online presence these days, with social networking and online gaming becoming a way of life. The ParentCircle-IMRB* Nationwide Survey, 2015, states that 60 per cent of children between the ages of 10 and 18 are online. But, shockingly, only 55 per cent of their parents are aware of this. This is especially disconcerting considering children using social media spend almost an hour daily online.
Let me tell you the story of Parineeta (name changed), a coy 15-year-old. Like every other teenager, she took to social media to make friends. While she used it for the prime purpose of socialising, she also used the anonymity of the web to her advantage – to pose as someone else. She created a profile by uploading pictures of a pretty friend, Rehana (name changed) who wasn’t into online chatting. Parineeta used the account to chat with young men; her chat getting more intense by the day. Meanwhile, Rehana, who was completely unaware of this, started encountering men who would stalk her every time she stepped out. Initially confused about the situation, Rehana later found out that Parineeta had been chatting with random men using her pictures. Taken aback by the betrayal, Rehana exposed Parineeta to her schoolmates. Filled with shame and embarrassment, Parineeta was forced to leave the school. Her parents, who until then had no idea of what Parineeta had been up to online, were taken aback. They were shattered.
With the number of cyber crimes targeting children rising by the day, we need to look at the darker side of the story. Children become easy prey to the vultures and big bad wolves out there. With the safety of children’s online life at stake, parental guidance is essential.
How bad it can be
Parineeta isn’t alone. The mainstream media is filled with news about children being ensnared by the web. There are even television shows like MTV Webbed and Gumrah that narrate incidents of teenagers falling prey to cybercrime. Parineeta’s parents were negligent. They couldn’t imagine how anything could go wrong. But, their ignorance is what took things out of hand. If they had made themselves aware, and educated their daughter about the perils of cyberspace, such an embarrassing situation could have been avoided.
One-third of all parents who took part in the ParentCircle-IMRB Nationwide Survey, 2015, brushed aside talks of cybercrime, stating that there is nothing to fear about being online. However, a related study, which was conducted by a leading industry body earlier this year suggested that the number of cyber crimes in India would double and cross the 3 lakh mark in 2015. Isn’t that truly disturbing?
What should we worry about?
With so many dangers lurking out there in the online world, parents need to be concerned about a lot of things. According to the ParentCircle-IMRB Nationwide Survey, 63 per cent of all parents surveyed felt that children should be careful about giving out personal details online, followed by 64 per cent who felt that children should be wary about who they befriend online. 71 per cent were also concerned about children posting inappropriate pictures.
What came as a bigger surprise during the survey, was the fact that just about 81 per cent of children and 80 per cent of parents believed they needed to be careful about using lewd and abusive language online. A similar situation emerged with cyber bullying where a whopping 81 per cent of children and 78 per cent of parents believed they needed to be watchful about cyber bullying. Only recently, a report by a leading cyber security specialist had put India high in a list of vulnerable nations when it comes to cyber bullying of children in the age group of 8-17 years.
What needs to be done?
As parents, it is your duty to safeguard your child – whether offline or online. The first step to protection against any kind of evil is to make yourself aware about the existence of the evil. If you continue to think that there is nothing to be afraid of being online, your chances of protecting your child reduces by almost 50 per cent. So, be proactive and take a stand. Kiruba Shankar, a blogger, author and digital entrepreneur, suggests that parents should monitor their child’s Internet usage. “In the initial stages, ensure that you place desktops and laptops in public areas like your living or dining room and restrict the use of mobile phones with net connectivity. Some supervision is always good, but also remember that children require their privacy. Make your child understand why your supervision is important. Otherwise, she may rebel,” he says, while urging parents to understand that there is a thin line between monitoring and being nosey.
Kiruba Shankar’s daughter, Krithya also has a piece of advice. She says, “Talk to your child and ask him to always remember these five rules while he is online -
- Do not give your full name.
- Do not post your address.
- Do not mention your phone number.
- Do not give out your password.
- Do not mention your plans."
There are many ways to protect your child from the evils of the online world. First of all, you need to be aware of online behaviour and cyber crime. Then, you will have to educate your children about it. Your children are your responsibility, and you can’t let them get trapped, ensnared or webbed. With some smart efforts on your part, you can let them indulge in safe surfing. Be smart!