How parents and teachers can help youngsters avoid digital risks by managing their digital behavior
Despite the advantages that digital media brings in terms of information, entertainment and communication, they have a darker side too, which parents and teachers should take note of. This is especially true for youngsters who can’t distinguish between what’s good and what’s bad and may fall prey to cyber bullies, be affected adversely by disturbing information they find online or even get trapped by paedophiles, suicide games or something much worse. Since digital media brings both opportunities and risks, the responsibility is on parents and teachers to guide the youngsters into making the most of the advantages and intervene when they find some disturbing or worrying trends in the youngsters’ response to digital devices. This could include staring at the device’s screen for long, spending a lot of time online (often at the cost of studies or by sacrificing playing sessions with friends), or acting aggressively when the device is taken away or online access is limited/blocked. So, as parents and teachers, here’s how you can help the youngsters avoid digital risks:
Raise digital citizens
There’s no escaping the digital world these days. So, it’s better to start discussing online safety at an early age and guide the youngsters about the do’s and don’ts of digital media. You can browse the Internet with them to show how to benefit from the medium and ways to steer clear of risks (not clicking on any link, not chatting with strangers etc). Keeping a track of the online environments where the kids are spending a considerable time is equally important. Encouraging your children’s online participation in various communities (say, book clubs, raising money for charities, volunteering for a good cause etc) is another way to appreciate their efforts, which would help them act responsibly when they are online. If you are surfing online with them or just find they have come across some inappropriate material, react constructively and teach them why and how it’s wrong. Don’t shy away from such moments as the teenagers need to know the difference between the good and the bad to protect themselves online.
Know the security aspects and protection features of websites and software used by the youngsters
You should know about the tools and features that most major ISPs (Internet service providers) offer to let you manage the online experience of the youngsters. From choosing approved websites and keeping a track of the time they spend online on any particular site or page, to restricting the number of people who can get in touch with them, setting pop-up blockers etc, there are many tools and security features along with some efficient third-party tools that you can use. You should also check the privacy and security settings of social networking sites, instant messaging service platforms, cell phones etc that the child uses to ensure s/he has the right level of protection. Since children can go online from various places (and not just in school or at home), it’s crucial to teach them some safety protocols like not sharing photos, emails, videos electronically or online since they can’t be taken back or erased once they are sent or shared. Asking them not to share their phone numbers or address or even updating their whereabouts are some other crucial steps to ensure their safety.
Encourage critical thinking and explain implications of risky behavior
Teach the youngsters how to find and identify credible and safe websites as well as other digital content. Tell them why they need to be cautious when uploading or downloading content or clicking on URLs. Explain why they shouldn’t share personal information (about their own, or of family and friends) on public platforms or with strangers since that could potentially be hurtful, embarrassing, or worse, a big danger to their (and their loved ones’) safety. Since anything shared online is almost impossible to erase (since they may stay in cached versions, can be copied or shared elsewhere, or simply get stored by anyone), they may damage relationships (with friends or loved ones), reputation and even future prospects.
Encourage them to play safe
Youngsters are rebellious by nature. So, just telling them not to meet online-only friends or not giving out the contact details may not always work. Explain to them the implications of such acts and even encourage them to follow some general rules of safety like meeting in a crowded public place, taking a friend along, confiding in an adult about such plans (together with the time and place of such potential meeting) in case they decide to make in-person contact with someone they have known online.
Empower the youngsters
From cyberbullying and spiteful comments to games with malicious intent, youngsters may come across a lot of adverse situations online. Work with them to teach them steps on handling such situations like confiding in an adult, not retaliating, blocking the person, or filing a complaint. Decide on what to do if such initial strategies fail.
Youngsters are often a vulnerable lot, which makes it easy for unscrupulous elements to target them online. It’s the responsibility of parents and teachers to teach and empower them the right way, thus helping them become good and confident digital citizens.
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