Are you aware of your child's online life?

June 06, 2015

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Children are on the internet all the time. My question is, do we as parents know what they are doing? —Reuters/file
Children are on the internet all the time. My question is, do we as parents know what they are doing? —Reuters/file

I know that this may sound a little extreme but sometimes, I feel my children force me into a state of insanity when I deny them access to the internet. When they find out that they can’t play their online games, they start getting agitated.

To avoid the trap of getting addicted to online activity, I have formulated smart rules so that they use the internet responsibly.

In the 21st century, the internet is a fundamental part of how children learn. They use online research journals, educational games, and social media sites to explore new subjects. I strongly believe that parents must be the ones who help their children foster appropriate and positive media use.

They need to take an active role in their children’s online life. It is important for schools and parents to teach children how to use these tools responsibly.

Today, children are on the internet all the time. My question is, do we as parents know what they are doing? Do we know their passwords, their usernames, and what social media platforms they are using?

Also read: Facebook provides free internet access to Pakistani citizens

The latest Pew Internet study found that teens are sharing more personal information than ever before, and it’s not just on Facebook. Children are using multiple applications like Instagram, Vine, Tumblr, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, Pheed, You-Tube, Kik, 4chan, and Askfm.

There is an online game app called the “Clash of Clans”. I hate to admit it but my 10-year-old son has become obsessed with this action-packed, highly-addictive game that he plays on his iPad Touch with his friend.

When I discovered his obsession with the game and how all his friends were scrambling to join “the Clan”, I knew I had to do some research and see if it was something I should be concerned about.

What I learned was that my son could allow any stranger to play the game with him if they allowed him in their clan. There is nothing stopping him from joining a clan with people he did not know. So I decided to check the ‘chat’ feature in the ‘Clash of Clans’ game. It turned out that there were no filters on the content or means to report inappropriate behaviour in the Clan chat area.

It made sense to talk to my son about the environment of this game and monitor how he used it. Not only have I decided to set strict time limits on playing the game, I also try to explain and give him examples regarding how to use the web safely.

Social media is a sensitive tool; there are upsides and downsides – even danger, to this activity. I can’t forbid my children to participate in a social media-based culture, but as a parent, I certainly believe it is my role to regulate their activity.

However, if we simply lay down the law without giving any explanation, then we miss a valuable opportunity to teach our children responsibility and internet safety. That is why, along with setting the guidelines, I make sure I have conversations with my kids which lead to a better understanding of social media.

To the end of making them responsible digital citizens, I have also ensured that my children are aware of what happens in cyberspace via online posting. I try to communicate with them so they can take traditional safety measures and not become victims of cyberbullying or cyberbullies themselves.

The kids now know better than to post a photo or message that they wouldn’t want everyone to view, or which would cause me, as a parent concern or embarrassment. Specifically, this means that they post a picture or download any video, they have to seek my approval.

Also read: Introducing my mother to Facebook

One day, my daughter asked me to buy her a smartphone. Now, a smartphone is not a toy; it is a tool. Most children I have seen use their phones primarily for socialising (to call, text, Instagram, kik, Facebook or otherwise connect with their friends). So I made it clear to my daughter that posting mean comments, spreading gossip, forwarding embarrassing photos or taking part in any type of unkind activity which could put her in trouble, should not occur.

After I bought her a smartphone, I monitored how often she used it. I also checked her online activity regularly. If she didn’t follow the rules, I gave her a ‘time out’, meaning I took her phone away and only gave it back on the promise that she would not breach the rules again.

My children dislike having restrictions on their online activates. But I firmly believe that it is my job to teach them that mistakes have consequences; that self-control is to be exercised at all times. I have to demonstrate my parental right to lead and put some restrictions at home.

So I have decided to change the passwords often, and set parental control on all electronic devices. I am aware of what my children are downloading (books, music, movies, apps etc.), and restrict the time that my children can use electronic devices. I take electronic devices away at night (i.e. have the charging station next to mom and dad), and place the PC in a public area.

Also read: Analysis: Censoring tweets in Pakistan

The internet is flooded with revealing information. Today's parents have a hard time fathoming internet usage because they have not typically grown up with this technology. But it has become necessary for parents to learn about this tool so that they may help their children in case of trouble. For me, the internet is like a knife; it can be used for a purpose but if and when one gets a cut, the bruise heals but the mark will never go away. Whatever one posts remains.

We must lead the conversation at home about digital technology and help our children become responsible and aware online citizens who look forward to being disconnected from time to time. We have to set down the rules of behaviour, and do it by example. Only then can we pave way for a safe and successful future as digital citizens.


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