THE INTERNET can be a wonderful resource for kids. They can use it to research school projects, communicate with other children, and play interactive games. Any child who is old enough to type in a few letters on the keyboard can literally access the world.
But that access can also pose hazards to your children. That’s why it’s important to be aware of what your children see and hear on the Internet, who they meet, and what they share about themselves online. Just like any safety issue, it’s a good idea to talk with your children about your concerns, take advantage of resources to protect them from potential dangers, and keep a close eye on their activities.
THE MUMBAI Police cyber cell website tells about the dangers of sexual abuse of children. According to them pedophiles approach children through the internet in the following ways:
1. Use a false identity to trap children and befriend them in a chat room.
2. Extract personal information.
3. Get the e-mail address of the child and start sending pornographic images in order to help him shed his inhibitions.
4. Set up a meeting place and then sexually assault him.
WHAT CAN BE DONE
1 Become computer literate and learn how to block objectionable material.
2 Keep the computer in a common room, not in bedrooms, where you can watch and monitor your child.
3 Share an email account with your child so you can monitor messages.
4 Bookmark your child’s favourite sites for easy access.
5 Spend time online together to teach your child appropriate online behaviour.
6 Forbid your child from entering private chat rooms. Be aware that posting messages to chat rooms reveals your child’s email address to others.
7 Monitor your phone bills for unfamiliar account charges.
8 Find out what online protection is offered by your child’s school, friends’ homes, or any place where he or she could use a computer without your supervision.
9 Take your child seriously if he or she reports an uncomfortable online exchange.
10 It’s a good idea to create a screen name for your child to protect his or her real identity.
l1 Make sure that your child never trades personal photographs in the mail or scanned photographs over the Internet.
12 Educate your child to never reveal personal information, such as address, phone number, or school name or location.
Use only a screen name.
13 Tell the child to never respond to a threatening email or message.
l4 Encourage your child to tell you about any communication or conversation that was scary.
15 If your child has a new ‘friend’, insist on being ‘introduced’ online to that friend.
There are some warning signs that your child is being targeted by an online predator.
1 Your child may be spending long hours online, especially at night.
2 If there are phone calls from people you don’t know or unsolicited gifts arriving in the mail.
3 If your child suddenly turns off the computer when you walk into the room.
4 Withdrawal from family life and reluctance to discuss online activities are other signs that you need to look more closely at what your child is doing online. By taking an active role in your child’s Internet activities, you’ll be ensuring that he or she can benefit from the wealth of valuable information the Internet has to offer, without being exposed to any potential dangers.
(The author is a psychologist and heads the twin departments of psychology and social work at BSSS. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)