How to Protect Children From Online Threats?
The internet was a threat before COVID-19. After COVID-19, it has become an even bigger threat. It’s well-known how pandemic has disrupted our lives and how online became the new normal in the aftermath of COVID-19. The education system was hit hard by the virus among other things. Continuing academic sessions while following precautionary measures such as social distancing became unmanageable, hence education was shifted online and distance learning became the new norm. Virtual classrooms replaced the real classrooms; children started spending more than usual time on the internet, and consequently, their safety became riskier. As a matter of fact, it is one of the biggest parenting challenges that parents are facing across the globe. UNICEF reports that over 1.6 billion children and youth have been affected by COVID-19. Researchers are working round-the-clock to provide a full-proof solution and mitigate the risks to the young lot. In fact, when scientists were working frantically towards finding a cure for COVID-19, tech experts and researchers were busy brainstorming to invent tools and methods to guard children against online threats. UNICEF has put together the five most common online threats to children and they are sexual abuse, cyberbullying, risk-taking online behavior, potentially harmful content, and risk to children’s privacy. The online threat is a harsh reality! The need to combat the online threat was felt decades ago. The US led the way by implementing the federal law – the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) – in 1998. The strict guidelines of COPPA play an important role in protecting children under 13 years from online threats. Recently, the UK parliament approved the Age Appropriate Design Code of practice for online services to make the internet safe for children. The pandemic has accentuated the problem and tech giants are equally concerned about the children’s safety; they are neck-deep in research too to find a technological breakthrough to provide full proof safety tools to help parents in safeguarding their children from inappropriate content, cyberbullying, and adult information. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Twitter, the big technology companies, known for inventing search engines and social media tools and igniting a craze for the internet, formed Technology Coalition in 2006 to prevent child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA) on the web. They too have backed a five-fold plan to “eradicate” child sexual abuse on the internet. The five key goals of the Technology Coalition are:
- Invest in innovative tech to tackle child sexual abuse material on the web.
- Hold an annual forum with governments, law enforcement, and other stakeholders, as well as periodic events.
- Fund independent research into trends around online child exploitation and measures to prevent it.
- Create new systems and develop existing ones for the sharing of information and threats across the industry.
- Share insights on the reporting of child sexual abuse and form a process for firms to benchmark their progress.
- Agree as a family on boundaries and expectations
- Speak to your child about online safety
- Understanding and encouraging positive social values, respect, empathy, good communication, and conflict resolution, can all help keep children safe online, and these are things that parents do not need technological skills to talk about with their child.
- Become familiar with online safety tools
- Know where to seek help and assistance for both you and your child
- Identify trusted people, either adults or peers, your child can talk to.
- Understand the privacy risks
- Respect your children’s privacy online
- Play with your children – online
- Be proactive in speaking and engaging with your children during this period