Hi! Need a favour urgently and only you can help me.”
“Yes, of course!” said I magnanimously. Who doesn’t like being a saviour, tell me?
“My daughter has this project work to prepare over the weekend. She needs some information and pictures. Can you help her with it? I wouldn’t have normally bothered you but the computer in my husband’s office isn’t working and she needs this like already!”
“Sure, No fret. But correct me if I am wrong, you do have a computer at home don’t you?”
“Yes, but that’s only for kids to play games on. My husband doesn’t allow the children to go online.”
“I see,” said I but of course I didn’t, my initial ardour having cooled off considerably.
The 13 year old comes over with a long list of people on whom she needs information. I turn on my computer and show her some sites to visit for content. I was about to resume my work when she said:
“But Aunty, I don’t know how to search for content and prepare a word document.”
“What? But why?” something was telling me I was going to regret this.
“Never did and so never learnt.”
“What about in school, in your computer periods?”
“We do what our teacher asks us. The computers are all turned on. We don’t go online.”
I fearfully review the long list of historical names. “This will require minimum 2 hours,” I wail!
“No problem Aunty. I will be with my friends downstairs. Call me after you have taken the print outs,” said the young lady and sprinted away, leaving me banging away angrily at my keypad for a solid 180 minutes!!
Don’t get me wrong. I am as ready as the next person to help a friend in need. It’s not the difficulty of the task that bothered me as much as the staunch refusal of the parents to let their kids keep up with technology. Why will a 13 year old not know how to do her own project?
Ignorance Breeds Fear
I get where the parents are coming from. They have heard horror tales of the Internet and look at it with a jaundiced eye. To them and their friends, the cyber world is all bad and the less kids have to do with it, the better. They have no experience to fall back upon, no guidelines by which to understand what’s safe and OK for kids and how they can ensure that kids are not exposed to objectionable content or for that matter to crooks online. So they opt for the easy way out—keep kids off the net.
Do Kids Need to learn How to Use the Net?
To an extent, parents are right to be worried. With a rise in the use of internet, there has been a correspondent rise in malware, stalking and bullying online. Every day we read reports of yet another person getting conned or children facing abuse online. Having said that, it is also important to understand that this is the cyberage and the internet is the tool of tomorrow. Everything, right from our electronic gadgets to our cars, offices and even homes are set to become automated in the near future, in what is popularly called the ‘internet of things’. It is necessary therefore for children to understand the net, its uses and abuses and the rules guiding its proper use. And the faster they start to learn how to use the net safely and responsibly, the better for them and the society at large.
Is It Safe for Preteens to Use the Net?
Your children are most probably already accessing the net from your, a relative’s or even a friend’s phone or laptop. Their activity might just be limited to playing games, answering quizzes, watching video clips or downloading songs and movies, but they are online all the same. They will be exposed to pop-ups and side bars that spike their curiosity. They will be using it more as they grow up. So shouldn’t they be taught to use it properly? And who is the best person to guide and monitor them other than the parent?
Children should however be supervised when they go online. Just like when they do something for the first time in the real world. Like driving. Or skiing. Or cooking. They should not preferably access the net alone and without any restrictions. There are malicious pop-ups and inappropriate content that is not suitable for the young mind. There should be set usage timings and pre-decided websites. With age and maturity, they can get more freedom and greater access.
What Should A Parent Keep in Mind?
- Know the net yourself. Stay aware of what’s happening online
- Use kid safe browsers like Kid Browser 1.1, instead of the normal ones like Internet Explorer or Google Chrome
- Set rules. This might help
- Make your children sign the http://promos.mcafee.com/en-US/PDF/McAfeeOnlineSafetyPledge.pdf safety pledge and put it up next to the computer.
- Be strict about prohibiting the use of net at night, when alone and unsupervised.
- Ask around. Learn from the experience of other parents
- Subscribe to cybersafety blogs. They are a goldmine of information that will be of immense help
- Talk to kids about what is right and how good behavior matters online as well
- Instruct kids to come to you if they face any trouble online. Make it clear that nothing is taboo or too embarrassing to share with parents.
- Be there for them. Listen to them, their stories of their friends carefully. It will tell you a lot about them.
- When they sign up on social media, you sign up too, if you haven’t done so already.
- Sit by their side when they do project work. Help them select content. Teach them about the ills of plagiarizing and show them how to give due credits for work copied.
- The most important tip, install and use comprehensive security software like McAfee Total Protection or McAfee LiveSafe on your computer. Set up parental controls. You will find it a boon.
- Lastly, teach them the Stop, Think & Connect mantra
Let your children move forward with the times, with the right knowledge and confidence. Safely. Let them take pride in their presentations. Help them learn more!! You will be surprised how much you will also be picking up yourself.