12 min read
A 15-year-old girl courts a 16-year-old boy through a popular social network. The boy runs away from home to Mumbai only to find out that the girl was, in fact, a 30-year-old man. The man sexually abuses the boy, steals his money and severely beats him up.
A 14-year-old boy raked up bills of thousands of rupees on his father’s credit card after he got addicted to viewing pornographic websites.
A class 10 student, who was taunted by his classmates for having a pockmarked face, puts up a pornographic website and displays nude ‘morphed’ images of his classmates and teachers.
The number of cyber incidents targetting children is growing at a huge rate. The Family Guide to Online Safety covers warning signs for parents, online risks that children face, guidelines for parents, and tips for children.
Warning signs for parents
There are a number of signs that parents whose children venture online should watch out for. You know your child better than anyone else, so follow your instincts!
1. Screen Switching
If your children quickly change screens or turn off the monitor when you come into the room, it is likely they are viewing something they don’t want you to see. Be calm and ask them to share what they are viewing with you. If the content is inappropriate tell them politely that they should not view the material. Do not reprimand the child without first talking to him/her.
2. Phone Calls
If your child suddenly starts receiving phone calls from strange adults (or even other children) you may have a problem on your hands. Install a caller ID program to determine where the calls are coming from and ask your child to explain them.
If your child suddenly has unaccounted cash or gifts, or unfamiliar clothing, there may be something for you to worry about. Offenders seeking to harm children often spend a great deal of money cultivating a relationship / friendship with a child in order to gain their confidence and trust. Ask your child where they received these gifts from.
4. Withdrawal Symptoms
If you notice that your child has of late been keeping away from friends and family especially after the use of the Internet then you should be a little careful. Pedophiles and other offenders looking to target children work very hard to drive a wedge between children and the people who support and care for them. The larger the gap between the child and his family, the easier it is for a predator to create a relationship.
5. Visiting Friends
If you sense that your child has been acting strange of late and that his/her friends do not visit that often, make the attempt to speak to his/her friends and ask them if anything is wrong. Do not interfere too much though.
Sometimes your child’s friend could also visit quite often; be wary if the purpose of the visit is to view inappropriate material online.
However, you must also respect the privacy of your child. Be tactful in handling any situation. These are a few signs that should concern you as a parent. Getting hysterical or making accusations will not help the situation.
It is your job as the adult to remain calm and to try to figure out what has gone wrong – and find a solution to the problem too! Child pornography or any other illegal activities directed at children may be reported to the nearest police station.
Online risks that children face
1. Exposure to Inappropriate Material
Due to the free availability of information on the Internet, a major risk that a child may be exposed to is inappropriate material (sexual, hateful, or violent in nature), or material that encourages activities that are dangerous or illegal. These may also appear as ads on various websites.
2. Gambling and Other Unsuitable Behaviour
Today, there are countless online gambling sites. It is unsuitable for children to view such sites. More often than not, a credit card is mandatory for gambling sites. This poses a potential threat to the financial well-being of the family as well.
3. Drugs, Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Dangers
Some websites and newsgroups promote the use of drugs, tobacco, or alcohol. Some websites even teach how to make bombs or download ‘Virus Development Kits’.
4. Physical Harm
Pedophiles seeking children as targets have used e-mail and chat rooms to gain a child’s confidence and then arrange a face-to-face meeting. Once the child’s confidence has been won and a meeting arranged, the child is in great danger of physical harm and permanent psychological scarring.
5. Persecuting Messages
A child might encounter e-mail or chat /bulletin board messages that are harassing, demeaning, or belligerent. Information sent to your child could also have a psychological impact on your child.
6. Legal and Financial Problems
There is also the risk that a child could do something that has negative legal / financial consequences such as giving out a parent’s credit card number or committing a cybercrime. Legal issues aside, children should be taught good ‘netiquette’ which means to avoid being rude or inconsiderate while online.
7. Intrusion of Privacy
A child’s privacy is vital but is most vulnerable on the Internet. No one has a right to a child’s personal information without due authorization from her guardians. Such information includes name, age, name of the school, and details about the child’s family. Disclosing such information on the Internet may expose the child to substantial threats.
8. Wasting a Child’s Potential
By being online for an unlimited number of hours, a child ends up wasting a lot of valuable constructive time that may have been utilized for creative purposes. A child’s development may suffer a great deal because of this.
Guidelines for Parents
Here are a few guidelines that every parent should follow to ensure your child’s safety online.
1. Do not rely on a program to do your job!
Filtering and blocking programs can be a part of your Internet safety plan at home, but they don’t take the place of a caring and concerned parent.
2. Be Proactive
Spend some time listening to and speaking with other concerned parents. Think of ways and means to communicate with your child and inform them of the dangers of Internet surfing. It’s never too early to speak to your child.
3. Be Vigilant
Look for graphic files downloaded – files ending in .jpg, .gif, .bmp, .tif, and .pcx format. Files with these extensions may be inappropriate material from the Internet.
4. Do your research on Blocking, Filtering, and Rating Programs
There are now services that rate websites for content as well as filtering programs and browsers that empower parents to block the types of sites they consider to be inappropriate. These programs work in different ways. Some prevent users from entering certain types of information such as their name and address. Other programs keep your kids away from chat rooms or restrict their ability to send or read e-mail.
5. Participate with your Child Online
Get to know the services and programs your child uses – ask them to show you how their favorite chatroom works or the online games that they participate in. Make it a fun activity instead of an interrogation!
6. Make a Promise and Keep it!
Promise your children that you won’t get angry if they come to you with a problem with an online situation. Stay calm and remember that your children trusted you to help them when they came to you – don’t let them down!
7. Plan Ahead
Talk to your children about the things that they may encounter online. You don’t have to scare them, but teach them that your values offline match your values online.
8. Encourage their Other Interests
Children shouldn’t spend too much time online – it’s just not healthy for them. Encourage them in their other activities such as outdoor sports.
9. Be a Role Model
Your child is most likely to follow what you do. If you download pirated software or other copyrighted material, don’t be surprised when your child’s teacher calls you in for a conference about plagiarised homework!
10. A Time and Place for Everything
Keep your computer in a ‘common’ room – where you can keep an eye on it! You wouldn’t allow a stranger in the bedroom with your child, don’t allow them in via a computer either. Grant your children Internet access only when you are at home and awake. If they can’t stay out till late at night, they shouldn’t be surfing then either!
11. Don’t be afraid to use your computer
Don’t be afraid of your computer or the Internet, they are wonderful tools that can enrich the lives of every member of the family. Trust your instincts and jump right in. The more you know, the better you can protect your family.
By taking responsibility for your children’s online computer use, you can greatly minimize any potential risks of being online.
Make it a rule to:
Never give out identifying information:
Home address, school name, or telephone number should NEVER be given to strangers.
Get to know the services your child uses:
If you don’t know how to log on, get your child to show you. Find out what types of information it offers and whether there are ways for parents to block out objectionable material.
Never allow a child to arrange a meeting:
A face-to-face meeting with another computer user without parental permission is a definite no-no. If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public spot, and be sure to accompany your child.
Never respond to messages:
Bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make you feel uncomfortable should not evoke any response from you. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter such messages. If you or your child receives a message that is harassing, of a sexual nature, or threatening, forward a copy of the message to the police and ask for their assistance.
Should you become aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography while online, immediately report this to the nearest police station. You may also notify us if you feel the need to do so. We’re always happy to help.
12. Watch Out For Strangers Online
People online may not be who they seem. Because you can’t see or even hear the person it would be easy for someone to misrepresent him or herself. Thus, someone indicating that ‘she’ is a ’12-year-old girl’ could, in reality, be a 40-year-old man.
13. Don’t Always Trust Content Online
Everything you read online may not be true. Any offer that seems to be ‘too good to be true’ probably is. Be very careful about any offers that involve your coming to a meeting or having someone visit your house.
14. Set Reasonable Rules and Guidelines
You should lay down guidelines and rules for computer use by your children. Discuss these rules with your child first and then post them near the computer as a reminder.
15. Monitor Compliance
Monitor your child’s compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer. A child or teenager’s excessive use of online services or bulletin boards, especially late at night, may point to a potential problem just waiting to happen.
16. Encourage Family Activity
Consider keeping the computer in a family room rather than the child’s bedroom. Get to know their ‘online friends’ just as you get to know all of their other friends.
Tips for Children
Here are some important points children should keep in mind while surfing the internet.
1. Never give out personal information
Personal information includes your name, the names of friends or family, your address, phone number, and school name. It also includes pictures of yourself and your email address.
2. Don’t believe everything you read
You can’t tell when a male pretends to be a female online or a 50-year-old pretends to be a 12-year-old online. People online may not send their own photographs either. Do not be fooled by pictures that your so-called ‘online friends’ send you.
3. Keep your Passwords Secret (shh!)
Never tell anyone your password except your parents or guardians. Your password is for your own protection, and giving it to strangers could be really harmful. If someone calls and says they’re with an online service or your Internet Service Provider and need your password, get their name, number and email address. Call the service and ask if such a person works there and whether they allow employees to ask for passwords.
Remember, your password should be kept secret from even your friends.
4. Do your research on Blocking, Filtering, and Rating Programs
There are now services that rate web sites for content as well as filtering programs and browsers that empower users to block the types of sites they consider to be inappropriate. These programs work in different ways. Some prevent users from entering certain types of information such as their name and address. Other programs help you keep away from chat rooms or restrict your ability to send or read e-mail.
5. Use Netiquette
Be polite to others online just as you would offline. If someone treats you rudely or meanly – do NOT respond. Online bullies are just like offline ones – they want you to answer. Never give them the satisfaction.
6. Never open strange emails
Delete strange e-mails. DO NOT open e-mails from strangers. E-mails from strangers could contain malicious codes (viruses, worms, Trojans etc.) that would be harmful to your computer. If in doubt, ask your parents, a guardian or trusted adult.
7. Talk about what you view
While surfing the Internet, it isn’t uncommon to find something that you don’t like or something that makes you feel uncomfortable or scares you. Don’t hesitate to turn off your device and talk to a trusted adult about it.
8. Take breaks
Take a break from being with your online friends and spend time with your friends and family offline.
9. Read website contracts
The contracts and user policies on websites are aimed at laying down guidelines for your use of the website. These sometimes look long and boring, but they’re also very important. Read the same with your parents and ask them to explain the implications of those contracts to you. This will help you and your parents understand issues of safety on the Internet.
10. Remember- Copying is not cool
Using websites to research for projects is completely normal. Just be sure never to copy the exact content; that’s called plagiarism. Get creative with your assignments and write what you find in your own words. Do not copy things from websites to use for anything, unless you have the Webmaster’s permission.
11. Protect yourself
Meeting online friends is usually a bad idea. However, it’s mostly up to your parents. If they say yes, make sure you meet in a public place, accompanied by a parent/ guardian.
12. Be Wary of Content Online
Everything you read online may not be true. Any offer that seems to be ‘too good to be true’ probably is. Be very careful about any offers that involve your coming to a meeting or having someone visit your house- NEVER say yes unless you’ve asked your parents and they’ve agreed.
13. Teach your parents
Spend time teaching your parents about your online activities – show them your favorite sites and games. Let them watch you use the Internet.
Keep them involved in your online activities. They’ll feel happy to know that you are secure while using the Internet.
14. Be careful
Some sites that offer free ‘virus development kits’ and ‘Trojans’ actually cause harm to your computer by planting a virus or Trojan in your computer. Remember NEVER to visit these sites.
15. Teach your Friends
Sure, you always take care while using the Internet. But do your friends? There’s no harm in talking to them if you find out that they’re doing/viewing something inappropriate online.
16. Mind What you Post
Many of us love posting on social media, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s important to know what should and shouldn’t be put online. If your parents tell you not to post something, it’s best to listen to them.
17. Be Careful While Chatting Online
It’s best to not to talk to strangers online- they could be trying to harm you. If you do, make sure your parents are fully aware and approve of the person you’re talking to.
18. Be Sure to Cover Your Webcam
Did you know that certain viruses can access your webcam without you realizing it? That means it can click pictures or record videos of you while you’re using your device. When your webcam isn’t in use, cover it with a little sticker.
19. Stay off Sites that Aren’t Secure
Not all sites are secure, and those sites can be harmful to your device. It’s easy to make out which ones ARE secure, though. Right next to the search bar, you should be able to see a lock symbol. If you see the words ‘Not Secure’ instead, close the site immediately.
20. Use the Block Button
If you’re chatting with someone online, and you feel uncomfortable, scared, or threatened, never hesitate to press that block button. Talk to a trusted adult immediately after.
21. Have Some Rules
If your parents have rules regarding what you do on the computer, always follow them. They may seem irritating or unnecessary, but they’re a LOT more important than you realize.
Let’s say you DIDN’T follow the rules your parents made, and that got you into trouble. The first thing you need to do is come clean and tell them. Don’t be afraid of them getting angry. They can help you sort out whatever has happened.
23. Ask Before you Download
Downloading apps is something we do every day. But not all apps are as appropriate and friendly as they look. Talk to your parents before installing even simple apps like games. Let them play the game once or twice if that’s what they want.
- Comic on Internet safety (English, Hindi, Marathi & Spanish) - April 24, 2020
- The Family Guide to Online Safety - April 23, 2020