Kids are now more exposed than ever to the risks of the internet. Here we examine what parents can do to make it a safe place.
The Woman Post | Valentina Ibarra
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Technology has advanced in non-imaginable ways in the last three decades. Phones went from luxury to a necessity in a matter of years, changing forever the way we communicate. The pandemic helped to consolidate this revolution, as our whole lives were transferred online thanks to the lockdowns and quarantines. For children, it meant changing their schools for laptops, which completely shifted their understanding of friendship building and communication.
This is the first generation that does not remember a life without phones and easy access internet. Some parents tried to keep their children away from technology till they reached an older age, but virtuality forced them to use electronics for their education. It was no longer a device to entertain them with videos, but it was a place to connect with their school friends and meet new people.
Sadly, the internet holds lots of dangers that kids may ignore. It can go from cyberbullying to grooming, which means that an adult gets in contact with an underage person, gains their trust, and then force them into sexual situations. With more access to technological devices, the risk increases. Now they interact with their friends on social media, so getting in contact with strange adults is easier than ever. Parents should be aware of the increasing worries that online school brings and act to prevent bad experiences for their children. But how should they do it?
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has consulted experts in children protection to give the best advice possible. First, it is important to reach the families early to teach them about online security. If both parents and kids understand the many risks, it is easier to prevent a bad outcome. Specifically, they should be taught to identify bad behavior and to speak up when something is not right. In this matters communication is important and kids should feel comfortable talking with their parents about their online interactions.
Because of that, the second piece of advice is to listen to children, who know more about their social media than any adult. With prohibition, parents might fail in preventing the worst scenarios because their kids will not be able to tell them about their experiences. For example, if they are not allowed to have social media, their knowledge in technology can still be enough to create them on their own and just hide it from the responsible adults. It can lead to kids being on their own when facing online dangers, putting their safety at risk.
Trust is important here, children can teach their parents all about the new forms of social media if they have a safe space to talk. If so, there can be an important conversation on the limits, the risks, and how to spot them. In the end, the ones who are exposed to cyberbullying and grooming are the kids, so they should have the tools to identify them, the knowledge on how to stop it, and the confidence to speak to a responsible adult about what is happening.
So, the last piece of advice is to give young people agency in their online relationship and talk about things. Pretending a problem does not exist will not make it go away, but instead, it can increase the bad consequences. Children can understand when something is good or bad if they are given the tools to comprehend it. The conversations on online security need to happen in every household, so kids can protect themselves and others in this new digital era.