Times of Oman
May 25, 2017 Last Updated at 04:09 AST
Oman family: Teach your children about online safety
May 17, 2017 | 7:08 PM
by Farzeen Ashik
Watch out for any changes in behaviour in your child.
 
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The Internet is indeed one of the greatest inventions of our time and with its million advantages a few disadvantages trickle in as well. As parents we do try to reduce the screen time of our children either by enforcing a time limit or allowing them to use only one particular device a day or using it in a particular area.

While security experts have always warned us to be aware of what our children are doing rarely do we have the time to sit beside them while they are texting their buddies or watching ‘Good, Mythical morning’ on Youtube. (And even if we did have time they wouldn’t let us near them.) So how do we tackle this conundrum? Quite simple actually, create an awareness of the dangers out there and tell your children what they need to do if something makes them uncomfortable in their online interactions.

The most important thing is to let them understand that they will not be penalised for coming to you with a problem and that you won’t judge them. This is one reason that keeps children from seeking help when faced with harrowing difficulties.

Here are some of the common dangers that our teens face when online:

Cyber Bullying

Bullies no longer just exist in the school yard, they can now reach your child through electronic means; social media, messaging, gaming, and more. Cyber bullying includes threats, harassments, stalking, defamation, rejection, posting inaccurate and embarrassing material about your child online, and manipulation. One in 5 teenagers have experienced it at least once and found it worse than face-to-face bullying.

Inappropriate Content

Even though Oman filters a lot of the Internet content we receive there is still a lot of stuff out there that we don’t want our children to see or hear. But this is the Youtube generation we are talking about and they will find their way around the Internet and run circles around us if given a chance. Such content usually includes explicit images or videos, swearing, and may even encourage vandalism, self-harm, and suicide. Unmoderated chatrooms are another area of concern as the chat usually turns sinister.

Online Reputation

Our teens have a digital tattoo from a very early age. From innocent selfies to funny comments on their friends’ picture or a wacky video taken at a birthday party gone wild, it can all be posted on Facebook or Instagram or Youtube and it’s essentially there for all eternity. A few years down the lane and your teen is going to apply to some of those Ivy-league colleges and then try to seek employment with some fancy law firm or corporate giant and when prospective admissions officers or employers do an online search imagine what pops up.

Online Grooming

Grooming is a word used to describe people befriending children in order to take advantage of them for immoral purposes. Groomers usually try to enter the child’s social network and pose as a friend. They try to know more about your child’s interests and activities and pretend to share this interest. They say nice things and offer gifts. Once the trust is established the conversation is steered towards immoral acts. They may encourage your child to send photos or videos that are inappropriate and then will use these to blackmail them.

Identity Theft and Privacy Issues

‘Data is the new oil’. Data of Internet users like their likes and dislikes, preferences, and more are used by corporates to sell their stuff. In the online world children unwittingly give away too much information like their local school details, home address, phone numbers, and more. They may then become victims of bullying, grooming, and blackmail.

Spreading Obscenity

Sending and receiving provocative photos, messages, and video clips, by text, email or posting them on social networking sites are increasing. It’s done by young people who send images and messages to their friends, partners, or even strangers they meet online. More than 65% of teens own smartphones that have cameras which makes it an even greater threat.

Self-Harm

Self-harm is often understood to be a physical response to an emotional pain of some kind and can be very addictive. In our modern world this has taken a new twist with emotionally troubled kids seeking out self-harm in cyberspace. They ask to be ‘roasted’, i.e. inviting friends and others to make derogatory, harmful, and hurtful remarks and comments just to show they are resilient and can handle the abuse.

Radicalisation

Your teen may meet and befriend people online who have radical views and beliefs. The Internet is a 24/7 medium that helps you find people who share your views and reinforce your beliefs and opinions. They may start as curious onlookers who are then quickly sucked into a whirlpool of extremism. The ramifications could be disastrous if we aren’t alert.

So, what’s the best way to tackle these issues? Make sure both you and your child are aware of what’s out there. Don’t be like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand hoping the danger will pass.

Watch out for any changes in behaviour in your child. Anything out of the ordinary should alert you. If they are quick to close the screen when you enter the room or switch off their phones when you are nearby them something is amiss. Keep the desktop or laptop in a public area. Check their phone randomly when least expected. Make sure you are friend in your child’s social network. This will ensure that you know what’s going on and will also prevent your child from posting something embarrassing online that could be detrimental for her. Keep the lines of communication open. Let them know you won’t be quick to punish and blame if something goes wrong.

Discuss with them about the higher purpose of physical relationships and make them understand that it’s not something that must be trivialised and seen from a dirty angle. Give them the love and support they need so they don’t go out seeking friendship and affection and fall victim to groomers.

Caution them and ask them to be careful about what they say about others online. It’s just as traumatising if you learn that your child is the bully everyone is talking about.

Know the passwords of your child’s online accounts on social media, email, and warn them to never share these with others even close friends. If at any point you feel your child’s mental and physical health is being affected you must get involved actively and if needed inform the police.

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