The Internet today plays a huge role in the lives of our children. Whether in school, or at home, the Internet is used as a tool for education as well as entertainment. However, extensive exposure to online tools carries with it certain risks. In fact, children up to the age of eight don’t really understand the meaning of the term 'online' and the risks and benefits associated with ‘being online.’ According to a research titled, ‘Young Children and Digital Technology: A Qualitative Exploratory Study Across Seven Countries’ by Chaudron Stephane published by the European Union in 2015, “Children are little aware of what Internet is, what ‘online’ means, what risks they can encounter or the benefits they can gain.” The study further states, “Children see digital technology as fun and source of entertainment. Their favourite and main activities are gaming and video watching on a varied range of devices that sometimes are Wi-Fi connected. When asked, children cannot show comprehension of what the Internet is and of what being online means. In general children of this age have limited or no perception of online risks, despite the fact that some of them have already encountered inappropriate age content or problematic experiences with pop- ups and in-app purchases. Two main negative views of online technologies emerged from the children’s accounts, one more related to the child's direct experience with problematic experiences with pop- ups and in-app purchases and the second related to adults’ perceptions and beliefs.”
Some of the risks that children face on the Internet are:
- Inappropriate content in the form of pop-ups.
- Abusive content or negative comments on social media
- Seditious content published by anonymous groups
- Online predators
- Cyber bullying
Of course, we, as parents, take steps to ensure that our child does not come across such content online. However, with the advent of smartphones and tablets, it is impossible to have a fool proof security system as far as the Internet is concerned. So, it’s better to prepare make your child and make them ‘Cyber or digitally resilient.’ As per a research titled, ‘Digital Resilience: meanings, epistemologies and methodologies for lifelong learning’ by Garista, Patrizia & Pocetta, Giancarlo published in 2014, digital resilience is defined as ‘ “as a way of coping with the digital challenges (MOOCs, Open Access Publishing, risk), or resilience as the final aim of a project by implementing digital methods (digital storytelling, social networks, etc.)’” A resilient child knows how to overcome the challenges of technology and other obstacles faced on the Internet and use the online tools constructively to achieve his goals.
Now that you know the meaning of online resilience, we give you steps on how to make your child digitally resilient.
How To Build Digital Resilience
Create a Helpful Environment: It’s important that you encourage your child to use the Internet to explore and learn. Rather than telling him the negatives of using online tools, support him in his use of the Internet for projects as well as to reach out to his peers. The important takeaway from this is, he knows that Internet, when used properly, is a good thing.
Talk to your child: It’s easy to give your child a list of rules on what and what not to do on the Internet. However, it’s better if you talk to her and explain why she should not share certain information about herself online and why she should avoid certain websites. When you talk to her, it’ll give her the confidence to approach you whenever she faces a problem or is unable to decide about the right course of action.
Be present: Giving your child the freedom to explore is good, but you must always be observant of your child’s online activities. Talk to him about the websites and the apps he finds interesting and take an active interest in his online life. Your encouragement and interest in his online activities will help him make good decisions and share his thoughts and opinions whenever he sees the need.
Talk about credibility: In this day and age of fake websites and fake profiles, it is important for your child to be able to differentiate between what is real and what is not. Discuss the parameters of what makes a website or a social profile credible and authentic, and how she should always test the information available on the Internet before using it in any way. Also, ask her to never share personal or family information with anyone online, no matter how real or trustworthy the profiles or the websites seem. Explain the reasons behind these rules.
Tell your child to be critical: While surfing the Net, your child will come across various advertisements or pop-ups promising a free gift or reward. Tell him to be critical of them and not click on anything that feels suspicious as there could be viruses. Explain to him that he should not trust anything without double-checking it with his parent or teacher.
Caution against cyberbullying: While younger children may not grasp the concept, children in their pre-teen years start using the Internet for engaging socially through games and social media platforms. This is when they may come across cyberbullying. Talk to your child about it and tell her what constitutes cyberbullying. Ask her to report it to you or her teacher if she comes under attack.
While you can teach your child to be aware and resilient when using the Internet, it will help if you can create a safe space for him to use online tools efficiently and achieve his goals. Here’s how -
How to create a safe space online
Encourage open communication: The more you know about your child’s Internet activities, the more it’ll help you protect her from incidents of cyberbullying or peer pressure. However, you can’t coerce her to give her user ids or passwords. The best option is to keep a track of her social profiles and build an environment in which she feels free to talk about any issue she faces online and offline.
Use digital barriers: Using parental controls and blocking certain websites will reduce the chances of your child seeing inappropriate content while surfing the Net. Monitor his use and check the Internet history periodically to make sure he is on the right track.
Check resources: When your child is doing a project with the help of the Internet, list a few sites she can refer to help her navigate safely. Ask her not to download anything without your permission.
What to do if your child runs into trouble
If you come to know that your child has been exposed to graphic or violent content, you must at once try to calm him to ease him out of the trauma. Next, you should block or report that site or content. You should also make sure that he is not influenced by the behaviour witnessed online. Some of those instances can be beating of siblings violently or trying to imitate acts like jumping from high rises or using sharp objects, etc. A parent must also consider monitoring the online behaviour of his child.
- Dr Debarati Halder, Honorary Managing Director of Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling
Have a talk: If your child has accidentally been exposed to inappropriate content, talk to him and ask him about what he has seen and how it made him feel. Do not scold him or overreact; explain to him calmly what he has seen and why it is wrong.
Consult a therapist: If the situation is serious and your child seems to be severely affected by what she has seen, consult a therapist to help her overcome her anxiety or depression.
Act upon it: If your child has inadvertently posted photos that could land him in trouble, delete the pictures or video immediately and talk to him about what he did and why it was wrong.
Seek help: If your child is facing online harassment, report it to the authorities concerned or the cyber cell.
Making your child digitally resilient is an important life skill that will help him deal with more critical issues in future. Encourage, supervise and support him in his use of technology and online resources now, so he is able to make important decisions on his own later.
Hope you liked this article. To get expert tips and read interesting articles on a wide variety of parenting topics, subscribe now to our magazine.