Children on social media – a predicament for parents and schools – The Hindu

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May 27, 2017 01:11 am | Updated 08:56 am IST –
Shweta Sharan’s seven-year-old daughter uses an iPad with the ease of an adult. Ms. Sharan did not give this much thought until she started coming across stories of a three-year-old boy abroad purchasing a luxury car using his mother’s account on an online shopping site, and more recently in India, of a 13-year-old girl “eloping” with a 22-year-old man she had befriended on her father’s social media account.
The simple rule ‘No talking to strangers’ takes on a whole new meaning on the Internet, and parents and teachers are struggling to protect their children from online predators.
“I don’t give my phone to my daughter, and now I have installed an app on the iPad that filters out questionable content. You cannot monitor children all the time and as we are constantly online and on social media, we cannot really stop them. They can always set up accounts behind our back,” she said.
Hers is a predicament shared by a large number of parents. Their fear, however, is multiplied by the fact that the legal age to set up an account on popular social media sites such as Facebook is 13, a fact that has led to considerable debate in India. In 2013, for example, the Delhi High Court had asked the Union government to explain how children aged below 18 were being allowed to open accounts on social networking sites.
A UNICEF report, ‘Child Online Protection in India’, released last year spoke about how cyber offences against children are spreading and diversifying as new methods are used to harass, abuse and exploit them. “In many instances, children are also online offenders. Offline forms of crime and violence against children are finding new forms of expression in the online world. In many cases, offline and online violence are interrelated,” the report stated. It also stated that India does not have a hotline for reporting and removing online “child sexual abuse material” and lacked guidance, protocols or coordinated response.
Some parents are ‘friends’ with their children on social media. Does this ensure some form of assurance? “Absolutely not,” said Shruthi Rathan, who is on the ‘friends’ list’ of her 14-year-old son. With privacy settings allowing users to choose how much information one wants to conceal and reveal and to whom, there are chances of parents not being able to see all online activities of their children.
“It is a risk that we all need to be aware of. Children are so vulnerable as a small amount of praise is enough to impress them. We as parents have to keep educating them about the risks,” she said. Is her son OK with her being on his friends’ list? “He doesn’t mind if I view his posts or ‘like’ them. But he gets embarrassed when I comment on them, given his age. I try not snooping around, but an alarm does ring when I notice a complete stranger being added to his list of friends,” Ms. Rathan said.
The practical thing to do, according to Ms. Sharan, would be to educate children on using the Internet responsibly, teaching them about the privacy and safety risks. “There are different aspects; cyber bullying is also a huge thing now. Children should be told not to give away personal information, and that photos can be accessed by anyone,” she said. This is especially important in a society where even teenagers own smartphones.
The roles of schools
While parental intervention is faced with its own set of challenges, what role can schools play? Inventure Academy, for example, has blocked access to Facebook for students in school. “We have a code of conduct for students, which also covers cyber bullying. Cyber safety workshops are conducted twice a year for the students,” said Nooraine Fazal, managing trustee of the academy.
The Delhi Public Schools too have blocked access to social media sites on their premises, apart from organising workshops for students and parents on the responsible usage of the Internet. Mansoor Ali Khan, member, board of management, DPS Bengaluru, said, “One thing we have realised is that social media is as much a bane as it is a boon, especially to have students fall in line and follow the rules. Students create a parallel page to talk about teachers and other students. We are trying to educate parents and students that unrestrained access at home can get nasty,” Mr. Khan said.
Current forms of child online abuse and exploitation include
Cyberbullying: Emotional harassment, defamation and social exposure, intimidation, social exclusion
Online sexual abuse: Distribution of sexually explicit and violent content, sexual harassment
Online sexual exploitation: Production, distribution and use of child sexual abuse material (child pornography), ‘sextortion’, ‘revenge pornography’
Cyber extremism: Ideological indoctrination and recruitment, threats of extreme violence
Online commercial fraud: Identity theft, phishing, hacking, financial fraud
Habit formation and online enticement to illegal behaviours: Access to alcohol, cheating, plagiarism, gambling, drug trafficking, sexting, and self-exposure
Grooming: Preparing a child, significant adults and the environment for sexual abuse and exploitation or ideological manipulation
Source: UNICEF
Keep these in mind
Parents should monitor the online behaviour of their children. They should learn what their interests are
If they are ‘friends’ with their children on social media, they should keep a check on who their child’s friends are
Awareness should be created in the school on online behaviour
Children should be taught not to reveal personal information, photos or other details to strangers, especially online
Children should always take the parent along with them when going to meet someone they have met only online
Children should be taught that people whom they find on the Internet may not be reliable
Children should tell their parents if they find some one troubling them online
Source: Cybercrime police
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