The smartphone has become ubiquitous today with each member of the family, irrespective of age, possessing at least one smart device to stay ‘connected’. And, where buying a smartphone is concerned, it is not only the elders in the family who decide. Even 5- or 6-year-olds are ready with suggestions on what phone to buy and from which shopping platform. Children are well aware of the different makes of smartphones and their specifications. Also, it is often they who direct their parents on downloading free games, shopping and communication apps, photo-managing apps, etc., from Google Play Store. But, this kind of familiarity with technology comes with its own dangers.
I have interacted with many parents of children of the digital communication technology era who are worried about their children’s safety on the Internet. However, it is often the parents themselves who introduce their children to the Net and to various online games. Many of them use these games to pacify the children and keep them out of trouble, little realising that some of the more violent ones numb the child to the pain of others. In fact, the child may even start getting sadistic pleasure by what we call ‘visual victimisation’.
Some dangers associated with smartphones that you need to protect children from:
Dangers of photo apps and cameras: Parents allow the child to play around with photos on their phones. The child may use a photo editing app to add a ‘piggy nose’, ‘doggy ears’ or fancy hair styles to the photos of family members without their permission. The parents may laugh it off, secretly proud of their child’s creative skills. But he may soon learn to morph pictures if he is not monitored. It is important that parents do not leave a camera device (including a camera phone) unmonitored with a child. They should also take great care to ensure the child does not infringe on the privacy of others, even in a public place. He should be taught not to take pictures of people when they do not want to be photographed – specifically in washrooms, restaurants, beaches or on public transport. Such habits don’t always turn the child into an excellent amateur photographer; they could well turn him into a voyeur instead.
Dangers of social media: Let’s turn to social media. What would you do if you suddenly find your preteen on social media in a fake avatar? I have seen several children opening Facebook accounts much before they are eligible to do so. They love to play hide-and-seek with parents, meet exciting virtual friends, upload pictures of themselves as well as of those they have photographed in public places to get a huge number of likes, bully ‘enemies’ and shadow teachers they don’t like and tear them to shreds. Sometimes, they discuss studies with friends. The child may even operate her parents’ social media accounts. In such cases, the parents will become directly liable for any criminal activity done by the child.
So, how can you be a good friend while guiding your child in his Internet adventures?
Here are some smart cyber parenting tips:
- Do not use your phone as a pacifier. Introduce your toddler to real toys let him watch cartoons on TV and encourage him to sketch and draw instead of playing games on a device. You may make him addicted to your device and not only the games apps.
- Start teaching her the pros and cons of digital communication technology right from when she starts going to preschool. Introduce her to the positive aspects of technology like the possibility of connecting with grandparents and making a video call to uncles, aunts, cousins etc. This will help her become more attached to family while playing with animated human beings in games apps will only make her indifferent to them.
- Teach him not to touch your phone or your spouse’s without permission. He has to learn that this is not a ‘toy’ but an instrument that can be put to positive use.
- Nurture his photography skills when he is around 6-7 years old and starts enjoying the beauty of nature. Teach him what to photograph and what not to and to respect others’ privacy. He will turn into a ‘positive cause photographer‘ and make you proud.
- Do not curb the child’s inquisitiveness to know about social media. But show her the company’s policies regarding age. Promise her, her own space on social media when the right time comes. But start teaching her the good and bad aspects of social media right from when she gets introduced to computer science as a subject in school. Teach her about safe touch and unsafe touch as well as about good talk and bad talk online. Show her your own profile and tell her how you operate it. But never let her operate it herself without your supervision.
- Gift him his own Facebook account on his 13th birthday with his best friends already added; i.e., the parents and family members whom he can rely on in case of any problem. However, make sure he uses it in your presence and with your guidance.
- There is nothing more enjoyable than letting grandparents be students to their grandchildren. I knew my child is going to be safe and grow into a responsible netizen when she made her grandma her Facebook student.
- Do not spy on your child on the Internet. But be his friend to alert him to any danger.
- Remember, accidents do happen despite all precautions. Be there for her and help her to stand strong against all odds. Never discourage the child from reporting crimes even if it is trivial in your eyes.
Following these suggestions will definitely make cyber space safer for your little one and allow you to stop worrying about him.
Dr Debarati Halder is the Honorary Managing Director of 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 @firstname.lastname@example.org
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