Majority of children do not meet basic age guidelines when watching TV or accessing content online
Violating age restrictions and the common practice of sharing (sometimes compromising) personal information online remains a major problem among children using the Internet.
Dr Ateeq Qureshi, chief child psychiatrist at Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has urged parents to be more vigilant about their children’s online activities ahead of ‘Safer Internet Day’ tomorrow (February 8 ).
“Safe or safer Internet use – since security can never be 100% – covers all aspects of Internet use. The starting point is parents’ awareness of their children’s online activities and non-judgmental communication with the child or adolescent,” says Dr. Ateeq.
“The majority of children I see in our clinic do not meet basic age guidelines when watching television or accessing online content. Many children falsify their date of birth to access apps and sites web of social media; parents are often oblivious and sometimes complicit.”
He added: “Sharing personal information or content – messages, photos or videos – online is also common, but, worryingly, can sometimes lead to serious repercussions. I now see many more cases where a child has been cyberbullied, harassed, and even blackmailed as a direct result. Many video games also have chat or communication features that most parents don’t know about or don’t pay enough attention to.
“Children and teens often interact with strangers, and they need to have the knowledge and support to handle them safely. It is crucial that parents have some level of awareness and supervision of a age-appropriate manner so they can support the safety of their children.”
With the internet now an integral part of everyday life, especially for young people and children, online age appropriateness has never been more important, according to Dr Ateeq.
While the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) set an age rating of 13+ for social media sites in 1988, many experts now claim that this age rating may not be sufficient to limit some of the risks now associated with the Internet due to advances in recent years.
Minimum age is a good starting point to think about safe internet use
Dr. Ateeq is keen to emphasize that an “overall” age classification should only ever be used as a guide.
“Minimum age ratings are generally a good starting point for thinking about safe use, with the primary function of protecting children and young people while allowing them to thrive in the online environment. However, it is also important to emphasize how two children of the same age do not have the same cognitive and emotional abilities.
“Children are generally more technologically savvy than their parents. This may lead them and their parents to believe that they are still capable of making good judgments in their online activities. children are still developing, their ability to make complex judgments is underdeveloped. Children and young people are also much more impulsive and more prone to seek instant gratification than adults.”
How the Internet is now an extension of the physical and social world of children and young people
Dr Ateeq explains how the Internet is now an extension of the physical and social world of children and young people: “They are the customers and targets of marketers and content consumers. The online world allows children to interact with friends and relatives, but also with strangers. Children and young people share information about themselves, which can sometimes be very personal. Hardly any parent would allow their child to have unlimited access to all these things in the physical and social world.Despite the three decades that the Internet has been a part of people’s lives, many parents still regard it as “not real”.However, for young people, it is just as real as the physical environment.”
Dr Ateeq thinks that for many parents the problem is a combination of a lack of knowledge and understanding of the dangers associated with the internet, as well as being too passive when it comes to monitoring internet usage. Internet by their child.
“Parents and caregivers may think their young child is ready for Instagram, Facebook or TikTok despite all of these apps having a clear age limit of 13 or older. However, the limits are there because most kids don’t do not have the cognitive and emotional abilities to appropriately process all the content they might encounter on these sites.”
Tips that can help parents support their children in the online world:
Watch, play and sail together: Shared discovery from an early age helps educate parents about the type of content their child is accessing. It also helps the child not see the parent as an ignorant stranger in their online world. This is also very useful later on as children get older, allowing for conversations in a cooperative rather than adversarial way.
Engage and communicate without judgement: Talk to your children about their Internet use. Help them understand that you are not against online activities, but want to get involved and support them as they navigate this vast and ever-changing virtual “world”. Educate them about the dangers of sharing photos, sending intimate messages, and interacting with strangers.
Agree on family rules: Families should explain and agree on the rules for using the Internet with their children. These rules may include: what sites or apps can be used, how long and when, sharing personal information and content, whether and how to interact with strangers, and how to treat others. These will help keep children safe and encourage them to be good citizens online.
Respect the age groups: Age ratings are there for a reason: to protect your children and allow them to thrive. Explain the rationale in a way appropriate to your child’s level of understanding.
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Use parental controls and other technology solutions: Parents have access to a range of very simple technological solutions to promote safe Internet use. Most devices allow customization of duration and times of use and content restrictions.
Monitor activities and usage: It is important to do this in an age-appropriate way and respecting the privacy of the child. It shouldn’t be a license to spy on your kids but to do the minimum necessary to ensure safety.
Educate yourself and keep up with the ever-changing online world: Parents can only help their children be safe if they know what the risks are and what steps to take to help mitigate the risks. It requires a curious attitude and effort to learn about new apps, app features, and online trends.
Safer Internet Day is celebrated annually around the world in February to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology for children and young people, and to inspire a national conversation about using technology in ways responsible, respectful, critical and creative.