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Safer internet day: Keeping children safe in a fast evolving e-society

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As Nigeria joined the rest of the world in marking Safer Internet Day this week, concerns over how to keep children who are internet-savvy, safe, is brought to the fore again, even as cases of rape, abuse, harassment, kidnap and worse, death, all from internet ‘friendships’, continue to rise daily.

This was the overriding theme at a workshop conducted by Project Open Eyes to mark the day and advocate for action in protecting children in their use of social media and the Internet. A recent survey conducted by the team on over 2000 teenagers in Lagos state revealed the worrisome extent to which Nigerian children are exposed to harm and indulge in wrongful practices online. Being a global issue, it has become imperative that parents become aware of these issues, especially as more children are coming online and using the Internet and social media without parental supervision and parents have no idea what their children are involving themselves in.

The truth is children today are digital natives- they are born and grow up with mobile phones and the Internet, unlike their parents. Literacy and in fact, digital literacy, is the future of education and work. However, while there are good people online, there are also many bad people, and a lot of harmful information online. Unfortunately, it is proving harder to stem the kind of content and contact that children see and encounter online, which is where the problem lies.

The team revealed steps parents and guardians could take to protect their young ones.
Evaluate your media habits: Children follow the example they see and they have more excuse to follow a negative example when a parent gives that example. Many of the children surveyed said that their parents’ social media use affects time that they should devote to them. So it is not just that the children say that their parents use social media too much but they use it so much that they have no time for them. You as a parent must be sure that you are not spending too much time on Facebook and WhatsApp because your children are watching and whether or not they already use smartphones, they are taking notes.

Discuss with your children about:
Content risk: children receiving mass-distributed content. This may expose them to age-inappropriate material such as pornography, extreme violence, or contents involving hate speech and radicalisation. Children must be given proper sex education and taught about the harmful effect of pornography.

Conduct risk: children participating in an interactive situation. This includes bullying, sexting, harassing, being aggressive or stalking; promoting harmful behaviour such as self-harm, suicide, pro-anorexia, illegal drug use or imitating dangerous behaviour. A child’s own conduct online can also make them vulnerable – for example, by over-sharing their personal information or by harassing or bullying themselves. It is important to talk to you children about the wrongness of indulging in any of these activities online. Don’t sum everything up together; each of these issues must be understood by a parent and discussed separately with the child.

Contact risk: children being victims of interactive situations. This includes being bullied, harassed or stalked; meeting strangers; threats to privacy, identity and reputation (for example, through embarrassing photos shared without permission, a house location being identified, someone impersonating a user, users sharing information with strangers); and violence, threats and abuse directly aimed at individual users and/or groups of users. Staying away from strangers online will do a lot for children because many children who get into trouble online get into the trouble by their association with persons they have befriended online themselves or persons they have met through their friends online. Also, they must learn that even with friends and family members they associate with online, reason must prevail. They are not entitled to do or say anything online they would not ordinarily do or say in the physical world.

Teach your child to never share private or identifying information, such as his or her name, address, school, etc., with a person online that is not known or trusted in real life. A predator can use this information to groom and/or locate your child or teen.
Strengthen the privacy settings on all social networking sites and ensure that these settings remain unchanged after updates. Social networking sites often publish posts as “public” based on the default settings.

Monitor your child’s activity on the computer and on all mobile devices. Please, do not feel that you are “spying” on your child. You are the parent. This is your responsibility.

Know the passwords on all devices used by your child or teen. Check them regularly.
Support: If you suspect your child or teen is being cyber bullied, be supportive, get the facts, and if necessary, contact the school or law enforcement. Conversely, teach your child or teen that there are negative consequences for those who cyber bully.
Sexting: This is the sharing of explicit texts/photos. Sending and/or receiving nude pictures of minors is considered child pornography. As a result, there may be both emotional and legal consequences for both you and your child.

Educate yourself on the mobile applications that your child is using. Ask for an explanation and a demonstration.
Maintain loving, open, and respectful lines of communication with your child while setting enforceable rules for online safety. Assure your child or teen that he or she can always come to you for help in an uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situation.



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