From the first days of the internet, it has had a certain appeal for children and teenagers. It was something new, something unusual, something that provided so many new options. As the years passed and technology advanced, new additions, such as games, social media, and easy access to media (YouTube, Netflix, The Pirate Bay), made the internet even more attractive to all generations. Of course, with the positive sides of the internet, such as being able to connect with people across the globe and having a way of learning more about any topic that interests a person, came negative ones too, as new ways of scamming and harming people also became possible, and, unfortunately, quite common. In this article, we will talk about how to keep kids secure online during the pandemic?
While anyone can fall victim to a scam or an internet predator, children belong to an extremely vulnerable category. Most of the time, children go on the internet expecting to interact with kind and friendly people. Additionally, suppose they innocently search for something they like on Google. In that case, they are not likely to expect to see many things not appropriate for their age, and if they want to download a book, movie, or a game, they will probably not be able to recognize the signs of the site or the file having viruses.
Parents have always tried to protect their children from the harms that could befall them on the internet, either by controlling the sites they can go to, letting them use electronic devices only when the parents are around. Or for a set amount of time, even by reading their messages or emails (that one will backfire, though, as the children will only lose the trust in their parents and want to hide things from them). Of course, it has not been easy, as the scammers and predators have become more and more tricky to discover, learning new tricks. With the appearance of many new sites and apps that children and teenagers want to spend time on, parents have often been left in the dark about how those sites and apps function.
However, everything changed with the rise of Covid-19. Things have been different in all spheres of life, and the internet is not an exception. As the measures to prevent the spread of the virus have been put into action, people, forced to stay inside their homes, started turning to the internet for work, school, and entertainment. Schools have moved from in-person learning to online classes, and that means that children now have to spend much more time at their computers, tablets, and phones than before, whether parents like it or not. Additionally, as most of the parents continue working either from home or, if they are an essential worker, as before, it means that children daily spend hours online without any supervision.
As with any issue that a parent might experience while raising a child, it is much better to solve the cause and potentially prevent anything terrible from happening than to punish a child after doing something bad. For example, suppose a child wants to buy something online. In that case, it is better to talk to them, explain why you disapprove, or what they need to do to deserve it, instead of saying no, because I said so, or even ridiculing the child for wanting that, and then the child might try to go behind your back and cause much bigger trouble. The same goes for any potentially virus-y situation (Covid pun not intended). If you explain to your child what viruses are and offer to find and download or purchase the movie/book/game they want, they will not feel the need to do it on their own.
This is even more important in situations in which a child might meet a predator online. Many people consider pedophilia something that should not be talked about, and by doing that, they are putting their children in danger. Children need to know about both good and bad things in life, both in real life and online, so they can be cautious and aware that, in many cases, people are often either not who they say they are, or they do not have intentions that they say they do. If you make your child feel like they can trust you, like they can come and tell you anything without fear of being unfairly punished or ridiculed, they are much less likely to get hurt by someone online. The parents need to have authority, of course, but, for example, if a child comes and says I have been talking to my friend X on the internet, a punishment without any explanation will only cause them to feel like you are unfair. They may try to keep communicating with that person secretly. Alternatively, if they are aware of the dangers that that person might pose and suggest things like Can I talk to that person? Can I see them in a call? They will know that you are not preventing them from having friends just for the sake of it, but that you are trying to keep them safe and yet happy.
Of course, children will always try to test their limits, and often, even if they know that they should not do something, it might look too enticing to resist. Because of that, it is still a good idea to take some necessary precautions. Such as blocking certain websites on your children’s electronic devices, not having any payment methods connected to their Google/Apple accounts, and only not letting them spend as much time online as they want. However, communication and being involved in your children’s lives are still crucial. An adult will admit if they honestly look at their childhood self, children can be very sneaky and find ways to do what they want, even if they try their hardest to prevent it. That is why it is always a great idea to explain to your children why you are doing something and create a relationship of mutual trust and respect with them so that they trust your judgment and do not feel the need to go behind your back.