The continued COVID-19 pandemic globally and extended lockdown is a concern for children and young people. As they are spending all their time at home, and have easy access to the internet including online classes, they are likely to spend more time online than in their previous routine. although this gives them opportunity to connect with friends- making them feel less isolated and learn new things; it is also important to understand the risks that come with spending time online.
Children and teenagers are vulnerable to different types of online abuse, such as-
Cyberbullying– someone posting mean comments, messages and memes about them or leaving them out of online groups. This may cause stress and feelings of isolation in children.
Exposure to misinformation about COVID-19 which may induce fear and anxiety in the child.
Risk-taking online behaviour such as sexting (sending sexually explicit messages) and sharing nude and sexual photos and videos, without child’s consent, extortion, revenge porn, harassment and humiliation.
Children may access and share potentially harmful content such as suicide inciting, violent or hate-directing content.
Online sexual abuse by strangers or by people known to them through sending them sexual content, asking or forcing them to share pictures and videos of themselves with sexual content, or manipulation with the intention of sexual abuse.
The data and privacy of the children can be compromised, and can be leaked online and children may be exploited.
Considering all these risks, here are a few tips parents should know, to protect their children from online abuse.
Have open discussion with children
Communicate openly with your children about their use of internet, what they do and who do they talk with. Tell them about the risks and abuse that they may be subjected to and explain how they should prevent them.
Encourage them to talk with you or a trusted adult about it if they face any cyberbullying and are in distress.
Decide the rules on the use of the technology and internet together with the child.
Use technology to protect the child
Install the latest softwares and antivirus programs children’s devices, and check the privacy settings to minimize the data sharing.
Set parental controls and alerts along with safe search option.
Cover the webcams when not in use. Be alert while using any free educational source and don’t share any photographs of financial details with them.
Correct use of technology
Explain the child why and how to keep personal information private, and ask to avoid sharing any confidential information or photographs online.
Tell them to avoid misinformation and anxiety-causing content about the COVID-19 virus, and discuss with you if anything concerns them. Show them the authentic sources such as WHO and UNICEF websites and government of India website for information of COVID-19.
Connect with the child online, play games or other apps and show them how to have safe and positive online interactions. Show the child how to identify age-appropriate apps, games and other online entertainment.
Help child identify advertising that may promote unhealthy foods, gender stereotypes or age-inappropriate material.
Encourage your child for physical movement using online exercise videos for kids and video games that require.
Monitor how your children behave with others online and on video calls. Teach them the etiquettes of online interactions such as clothing and place to attend a call and motivate to be kind and respectful to classmates.
Take help if needed
Know the school policies and helplines where you can report if you come across any cyberbullying or inappropriate online content.
Read and understand the privacy policies and data sharing policies of social media platforms and apps, identify and use the built-in reporting tools of these platforms whenever needed.
Include offline activities in the schedule
Introduce the offline activities in children’s schedule and encourage them to activities such reading books, painting, gardening or playing indoor games.
These simple steps can help you protect your children from any online abuse now and in the future, even after the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown period is over, and build a healthy relation between you and your children.
- Keeping children safe online during the COVID-19 pandemic- Tips for parents and caregivers. UNICEF Laos. (https://www.unicef.org/laos/stories/keeping-children-safe-online-during-covid-19-pandemic)
- COVID-19 and its implications for protecting children online (April 2020). (https://reliefweb.int/report/world/covid-19-and-its-implications-protecting-children-online-april-2020)