Compiled by Annalise Kempen
A few months ago, a ten-year-old girl in the UK who was playing a dress-up cartoon game, was asked in a private message to send a topless photo of herself to “verify her age”. The person who had sent the message wrote that since the App was a safe space for young girls and they require users to be 14 and younger and to verify it, they will need a photo of the girl’s bare chest and her age. “This is just an extra security feature but all members must do this. Users that refuse to do this will be permanently banned.” Fortunately, this girl’s mother had installed strict parental control on all of her daughter’s devices which regularly warns the girl about the dangers of speaking to strangers online. The girl immediately showed the message to her mother (Carter, 2019).
We live in a world where we talk about rights, especially in terms of freedom of speech, but where people don’t necessarily want to accept the responsibility associated with these rights. We also live in a world where computers, tablets and smart phones have become such an integral part of our lives that parents are even providing their children with technology to ensure that they stay connected. Yet, when parents take the decision to provide their children with digital devices, they must realise that it comes with the responsibility of educating themselves as well as their children about the possible dangers of cyberspace.
When parents and their children have an open relationship where regular communication and mutual trust are well-established, their children will be more likely to understand their parents’ decisions and rules relating to their online activities. Similarly, will they be more likely to discuss anything inappropriate with their parents irrespective of whether it is happening to them in the real world or in cyberspace.
TIPS FOR PARENTS
Allowing your child access to a digital device with Internet connectivity should come with the realisation that your child may be either the victim or the perpetrator. For these reasons, parents have to educate themselves first about the realities of cyberspace so that they can take informed decisions about what is in their children’s best interest.
When parents allow their children access to the digital world, they are likely to discover Apps, websites and social media platforms that are not age appropriate for them. They might be too young to realise that what they see or read is not necessarily the truth with regard to people who claim to be who they are not; or that what they post or share might have negative consequences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. These are some of the first rules of the Internet that your child needs to learn and understand. Whenever your child posts negative or harmful content online, it might not only harm other people, but also affect their online reputation which might have negative implication on their future educational possibilities and employment. It is important for parents to have regular conversations about cyberbullying to serve as a reminder to their children about how their own behaviour could have negative implications on individuals as well as on their own futures, but also in terms of how easily they can become a victim of cyberbullying (www.stopbullying.gov).
Talk to your child
Knowing when to talk to your child about cyber safety is a challenge faced by all parents, yet the best time to talk to your child about online safety and behaviour, is when they start using digital devices such as smartphones, tablets or computers. If you feel uncomfortable to raise the subject, use everyday issues or something that is reported in the news, such as bullying, to initiate the discussion about their experiences and your expectations. It is vital that you are honest about your expectations, what is regarded as off-limits and what you consider as unacceptable behaviour. By sharing your values, it will help your children to make smarter decisions and be more thoughtful about what to do in tricky situations. Remember that your child’s age will depend on how much and what information you share. Don’t make this a once-off conversation, but break it down in different sections and make sure that you don’t rush through the conversation when you are busy and your child doesn’t have the opportunity to think it through. Let it sink in and ask questions about their uncertainties. Make sure that your child has the confidence and peace of mind to confide in you if they have taken inappropriate decisions/actions online or are being targeted. Consider what your actions are going to be if they break or stretch the rules, without breaking their trust to confide in you in future (FTC, 2018).