It’s common to see children now handling their parents’ devices - listening to music, playing games, clicking pictures and instantly uploading them on social media and digital messaging services. Even toddlers between the ages of four and eight years are given phones as ‘pacifiers’ by parents. Children between the ages of nine and 13 years sometimes also use smartphones or tablets to surf the Net to escape boredom. Most of the time, parents either do not switch off the data (Internet) or ignore the fact that their children can access the Net, assuming that what they see will not harm them. However, children do face problems when they introduce themselves to the online world without parental supervision. Therefore, you should be aware of the risks your child may face if he goes online without your guidance.
Risks your child may face online
- Getting exposed to violent content: You must not ignore the fact that violent content can be easily accessed through digital messaging services like WhatsApp of Facebook. Consider the instance of the murder of Shankar, a Dalit boy from Tirupur, who was killed by goons because of his marriage with Kausalya, a girl from another community in December 2017. The gruesome murder was captured on CCTV camera and eventually it was leaked to digital platforms. It was shared by millions of WhatsApp and Facebook users. Sudden exposure to such violent content without parental monitoring may traumatise your child.
- Getting to see obscene, pornographic content: Like violent content, several obscene and pornographic content can also be accessed through several social media and digital communication apps. These may be in the form of erotica scenes from movies or obscene images which may have been shared intentionally and illegally as part of revenge porn. Not only this, adults (not necessarily parents) may even store several nude /semi-nude selfies on their phones, which are not appropriate for children’s viewing. Children may also, out of curiosity, access several porn websites from Google search options.
- Playing inappropriate games: Your child may go to the Google Play store to search for games. The Play store offers a variety of games including racing, strategy games and even ‘makeover’ games. However, not all games are safe for him. There are several ‘games’ which focus on ‘undressing’ a person, which can be very harmful for him, if he gets obsessed with it.
- Making wrong online transactions: Children aspiring for better results may access several websites ‘promising help’. Your child may share your phone number and email id thinking it is okay to do so. But what she might not know is, some websites and companies mine this data which might infringe on your privacy. In certain cases, children also shop, online without parental knowledge. Smart and well-informed children may never even bother to check with their parents about doing monetary transactions, if they have the online banking information of their parents. However, these children, knowingly or unknowingly can commit white collar crimes. They may even get trapped in illegal dealings including drugs or pornographic content.
- Becoming prey to the predators: It is a well-known fact that children are the softest target for online predators, especially those who deal with child pornography. Your child may use your device to access the Internet and may inadvertently start a conversation through your online profile with other ‘friends’ which can lead to disastrous consequences. Children may be groomed and may also get trapped into the pornographic industry.
Keeping these points in mind, you must consider the responsibilities of introducing your child to the digital world before handing over your devices or letting him access the Internet from any other device. You need to sensitise him about the positive and negative effects of the Internet.
Here are some ways to introduce your child to the online world:
- By teaching how to get positive and useful information from the Internet for his project work by accessing known and widely-acclaimed websites
- By teaching how to decide which videos and images are to be avoided while searching for information on subjects like Biology. For example, you can tell her to avoid ‘free’ or ‘downloadable’ content while searching for reproductive systems. While some of the websites may be authentic, there are chances that such sites may be linked to porn websites. Also, you should tell her to open only those sites which are indicated in the textbooks.
- By discussing which gaming apps your child is allowed to open and why. You must talk freely to him about dangerous and violent gaming apps. Unless he is told how some gaming apps may affect him adversely, he may become curious and want to explore by himself why and how such games are dangerous.
- By telling your child never to respond to any message which pops up in your WhatsApp or Snapchat. You must also tell her not to see these messages and not open your social media profiles without prior permission. Once you give clear instructions on what to do and what not do to, she will learn to trust your judgement.
- By asking your child to explain lessons from her computer science books. This may help in developing a mutual understanding between him and you.
Today, children learn about the Internet not only from their parents but also from their friends. Also, they learn by exploring the virtual world themselves. However, that will not excuse them from the law if they commit any wrong. Also, the Information Technology Act in Chapter XI (dealing with offences) prescribes punishment for ‘all’ who commit a crime. Similarly, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act) also specifies rights for children against sexual offences including voyeurism, cyber stalking, grooming, etc. But, this act covers all age groups irrespective of gender, when it comes to offenders. This means that children may also be prosecuted under this Act if they have committed any offence including cyber stalking, sexual harassment of other children, creation of child porn materials and grooming of younger children or fellow children for unethical gain from the porn industry, or other such sources. Also, parents can be held liable for crimes committed by their children. Our juvenile justice administration system and criminal justice system are empowered to make parents liable for several wrongs done by their children especially when it is proved that parents have escaped their liabilities in installing proper value system in their children, which may have prevented the child from doing wrong.
The author is the Managing Director of Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling.
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