Internet safety for kids has become an important issue, with more and more kids going online for searching information, or interacting with friends. Internet surely brings the world into your room with a click of the mouse as the cliché goes but it is not the world, which is always a hundred per cent beautiful and desirable, but it is also the one, which has warts and its seamy side.
I will discuss a few points about Internet, which is important from a child’s point of view.
Schools these days expect children to do research work on given topics in very early classes. When children begin to surf the net, they end up having a huge information overload. They are unable to sort out what is needed from the unwanted material, the chaff from the grains so to say. Therefore, they end up compiling irrelevant matter they hardly understand. Many a times information obtained is inaccurate. All this can be very frustrating to the child. It is advisable for the parents to oversee the work done by the child and help him do productive work that the child himself appreciates.
Internet can be very hazardous to a child, who does not know how to set limits for himself. Children can access pornographic sites, which can damage the sensibilities of a child. There are many sites, which deliver pornographic material in the guise of providing subject matter, or file downloads. Viewing such undesirable matter can have long term impact .It can affect the adult life of the child negatively. So what can the parents do?
I have put together a few preventive actions that can be taken for Internet safety for kids -
1. Keeping track of previously visited sites – Checking the history in windows will reveal the sites visited by the child. Softwares like ‘Net Nanny’ can be installed. Parental blocks when installed allow viewing of only safe sites and also tracks what kids are viewing .Website blockers can also be very effective. Internet filters when added allow viewing of unsafe sites only when ‘customer opt in’ is added. A word of caution here. A child must never feel that he is spied upon or there is an invasion of his privacy. It is always good to have a man to man or a woman-to-woman talk as the case may be, and explain the lurking dangers. It is possible for a determined child to beat all the preventives and view what he or she wants. Openness, reasoning and trust are preventives that are far more potent.
2. Avoid Chat Rooms – The other serious menace is chat rooms. It does help children to connect with others who share the same interests but no amount of caution is enough to keep them away from undesirable, positively dangerous people. Children should be made aware of dangers of chatting with strangers. You could read to them the stories of children who got into trouble chatting with strangers. Such stories are posted often on the net. You should warn them against revealing their names, mail ids, addresses and names of the school or the places they hang out. You must also warn them against meeting strangers. If they insist on meeting, they should be accompanied by grownups, preferably by parents. It is possible that the children may not like the protective behaviour of parents acceptable. They may feel that their freedom is curtailed, or their privacy is being infringed upon. However, you have no choice but to keep talking to them, appeal to their reason and take precautions to keep them away from danger.
3. Avoid Excessive Computer Games – Researches have shown that these games keep the brain alert and agile. Your children may even quote them, but do not be fooled. Researchers have also proved that children who are exposed to these games beyond the normal limit find it difficult to be attentive in class. Their brains get used to the strong stimulus the games provide. The speed and the thrill that goes with the games lead them to lose focus in the class. Their attention span will be too short and therefore they may find the class uninteresting.
4. Controlled Interaction with Social Networking Sites - Children who are so strongly engaged in the virtual world have no time or taste for the real world. They spend large amount of time in front of the computer, closeted in one room. They become secretive and withdrawn. The childhood that should have been open, airy, light and cheerful ends up being dark and heavy. Though social disengagement may not be an option, a limited or controlled interaction with social networking sites is a viable option.
How do we bring balance in our children’s lives? Knowing that internet is here to stay and has many advantages, what can we do to strike a balance?
It is very important for parents to spend quality time with children. Parents must take active interest in their children’s life. Their school life – what are their problems, what are their achievements should be shared. Parents should bring creative solutions to their problems. It could begin with inculcating good study skills, setting up goals, objectives and charting out paths to help them achieve.
Sports and games provide a strong outlet to burn the extra energy. You could enrol them into various sports academies and clubs. A good game of tennis, cricket or any other game helps the family bond. It also develops a spirit of sportsmanship in children.
Enrol them into hobby classes. All children have talents in one domain or the other. The success in any field gives a major boost to their self-image.
Friends play an important part in the lives of children. Know their friends, arrange parties, picnics and night-spends in your home. The child is likely to have a sense of importance when friends come home .You can have an informal parents club to share your experiences. Help them engage with friends of the real world rather than abandoning them to those of the virtual world.
‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ may be undesirable if taken literally, but in spirit, it still seems apt. Discipline is important. Young as they are, they may not understand the consequences of their action. It is important to set limits. Study hours have to be fixed, followed and monitored. Limits should be set for internet time too. It is good to keep the computer in common space where the child can be monitored without him realising it. However, when you set rules and fix penalties, do so democratically by enlisting the participation of your child. Democratically set rules are more likely to be observed rather than those that are imposed upon them.
Share your child’s life. Take interest in what he does. Share his interests. Play games, go for picnics, watch music concerts and rock shows at least two to three times in a week. You could even surf the net together. Have at least one meal together as a family. I strongly believe in the adage that the family that prays together stays together. You could make prayers too more creative and palatable to children. Perhaps a prayer set to tune on a Casio that your child can play on.
At the end of it all, you should realise that your capacity to protect your child too has its limits. He has to face the big and mean world on his own. It is better to teach him to fish rather than give the fish itself. Help him to make choices that are right. If he falls in the process of making choices, do not condemn him. Hold him, make him stand and help him recover. Once he knows that there is somebody to fall back upong, he is more likely to make good choices. Don’t we all learn by our mistakes?
Following these small steps can help you ensure internet safety for kids. Usually we tend to downplay the impact of internet on children. Going online has become a part of our everyday life; be it for help in homework, searching for information, looking for word definitions, viewing videos or any reason whatsoever. Faster internet speeds, availability of high-end smart phones and tabs make internet surfing a breeze. What we as parents should not overlook is that like everything else, internet also has its downfalls. Children usually get attracted to unwanted issues more easily. With some thought, you can turn a potential foe to a friend.