Most of us have our Facebook friends, Twitter and Instagram followers right in our own homes – our children. But how many of us know that social media has certain guidelines for children below 13 and for teenagers? Many of us may also not be aware of the fact that the amended Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection for Children) Act, 2000 (amended in 2015), has prescribed separate treatment of teenagers above 16 years of age for heinous and serious offences including offences done on the Internet. As parents, we often thoughtlessly pass on our communication devices and even social media profiles to our children for accessing the Internet. But that is not always safe.
Minimum age for social media accounts
I have heard many people say there is no minimum age for opening accounts with social media like Facebook. That is not true. Websites that provide interactive communication services, including data contribution services, generally have their own policies relating to the minimum age for opening accounts and also for viewing certain content. Generally, Facebook does not allow individuals to open accounts if they are under 13. Other websites like Instagram or Twitter also do not allow users under 13 ‘on board’. However, we do see young children as young as six or seven years of age operating social media accounts, uploading content and sharing content with others, including strangers. So, how do these children appear on social websites with their own profiles? Here are the answers I have discovered as a cyber victim counsellor and researcher:
- Such children use their parents’ phone numbers or email ids to open accounts. Smarter children create their own email ids by falsifying their age. After all, who monitors the real birth year?
- Parents pamper their children by opening profiles and then handing over control to the children.
- The children use Internet cafés that use ‘camouflaged’ security features. Not only that, children accompanied by older children can always skip that so-called security net which needs their names to be registered in the log books.
Parents’ role in ensuring proper use of social media
As these answers show, there are two groups of children on social media: (1) children with parental consent and (2) those who always manage to escape parents’ monitoring. In the first case, it becomes the parents’ duty to guide the children to use social media in a positive way. Such duties include:
- Making the child aware of what social media is and how it can be used in a child-friendly manner
- Discussing the risks of such media with the child
- Telling the child about ‘bad talk’ just as you would sensitise him to ‘unsafe touch’. I would define (as in my article published in the Indian Student Law Review, Aug 2015) ‘bad talk’ as – ‘talk or speech which harasses the recipient; or which instigates people to indulge in violent activities like mob violence leading to mass killing, religious or racial riots, terrorism, etc.’ I’ve termed it ‘bad talk’ because ‘such speech may generate negative emotional stimuli.’
- Guiding the child on what to upload and what not to upload and on what to share and what not to when the content surfaces on friends’ timelines
- Directing the child to use all the safety options that are provided by the websites, such as the latest profile guard option by Facebook
Other safety steps parents can take
There are also some other precautions that you, as parents, should follow:
- Teach the child about privacy aspects. A child should know that capturing pictures of individuals in public places or of even friends and relatives without their consent is not the right thing to do, especially if they are meant for uploading on social media. In short, parents must teach the child not to upload content which may violate the privacy of others.
- Do not ask the child to answer a chat on your behalf. That could start a dangerous trend.
- Never try to forcefully monitor your child’s online activities. Remember, today’s children are netizens and they may use smarter illegal ways to dodge monitoring. Use friendly methods to keep a watch on your child’s Internet activities.
- Remember that adolescents especially don’t like to be strictly monitored. But, they are the ones most vulnerable. So, make your teenager understand her rights and responsibilities on the Internet.
With these tips, you can definitely expect a young cyber aware generation to evolve with their own rational mechanism to provide a safe cyber space for everyone, including adults.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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